Title: The Vegetarian
Author: Han Kang
Published Date: February 2nd 2016 (first published October 30th 2007)
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural-Korean, Contemporary
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review from The Reading Room.
Synopsis (From Goodreads)
Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.
A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.
It is really hard for me to decide what to say about this books, so I will start by breaking it down (I will try to be spoiler free) and then hopefully by the end I will know what I want to say.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang starts fairly ordinary, if somewhat alarming. The narration is done through Yeong-hye’s husband, and starts with a kind of description of life with his wife before the vegetarianism. The picture he paints is quite frankly one of a man who has zero respect for his wife. I don’t know if this guy can be any more of a dick…well wait, of course he can! Anyway, so it continues on with this worthless excuse for a husband explaining their life, and then the point where everything changes. Yeong-hye has a nightmare; and from brief snippets of her feelings I can say I understand why she freaked out! So Yeong-hye has this nightmare and decides she will no longer eat meat, and not just meat ANYTHING to do with animals, so basically she becomes a vegan and slowly starts to kill herself by starving. It definitely doesn’t take long to realize that this isn’t just a faze, or really because of a dream. There is definitely something wrong here. Does her family help her? Of course not! They continue to abuse her until a cataclysmic incident ends with Yeong-Hye attempting suicide and being admitted.
The next two halves of the book are both in the point of views of Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law and then her sister. The book continues with more abuse, takes a quick turn into sexual depravity against the mentally ill, and then a hard turn into guilt and depression. All the while Yeong-hye continues to deteriorate in her mental illness while playing as a pawn in everyone else’s emotional problems.
I can’t say I understand Yeong-Hye, but I definitely feel sorry for her. You both want her to get the help she needs and want everyone to just leave her alone and let her be. This was definitely an emotional rollercoaster. I was both enraged, deeply saddened, and often shocked at the abuse that goes on through the book, not just of Yeong-Hye but other things as well. There is a particular instance with a dog that you will understand if you read it.
This novel takes us through many forms of mental illness, Scizophrenia, mania, depression, obsession and the hardships each one creates in lives. Yeong-Hye was mainly the linchpin that started the downfall of her family, except of course her worthless coward of a husband (I do not like him!).
I do highly suggest reading this if books about mental illness interest you. It is well written and flows beautifully.