The Vegetarian; Han Kang
Hogarth - 2016
The Vegetarian is a somewhat bizarre and unsettling story about a woman whose life begins to quickly spiral out of control when she decides to become a vegetarian .
Yeong-hye was a passive wife who after experiencing several bloody nightmares decides to give up eating meat. She shocks her husband when he finds her cleaning out the refrigerator and tossing out all meat-related products into a trash bag. Her decision throws her husband's ordered life off course. Her husband, only referred to as Mr. Cheong, was somewhat embarrassed by his wife's plain appearance before she makes this decision and, now that she has stopped eating meat he is uncomfortable taking her to work related functions as well. In addition, Yeong-hye no longer wants to have sex with her husband claiming "he smells like meat." As weeks turn into months Yeong-hye , can't eat and can't sleep and is emotionally and is physically wasting away.
The story is told in three parts, first by Yeone-hye, when she decides to become a vegetarian and how her family reacts to that decision (this part was my favorite). The second part involves her brother-in-law who becomes somewhat obsessed by his sister-in-law when he learns from his wife that she has a Mongolian birthmark on her butt. The last part is told from the POV of her older sister, In-hye, who manages a cosmetics store. In-hye is trying to cope with the fact that her sister is now in an institution, abandoned by her husband and that the family is now fractured.
This story gives the reader plenty to think about. Dreams play a significant part in the novel for several characters, and it's clear from some of the dreams and distorted faces that they see that the family members know very little about each other. I thought the male characters in this novel were particularly loathsome. From the very first paragraph of the novel, this is how Mr. Cheong views his wife ------
[Quote] --Mr. Cheong
"Before my wife turned vegetarian I'd always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way. To be frank, the first time I met her I wasn't even attracted to her. Middling height, bobbed hair neither long or short; jaundiced, sickly-looking skin; somewhat prominent cheekbones; her timid, sallow aspect told me all I needed to know. As she came up to the table where I was waiting, I couldn't help but notice her shoes--the plainest black shoes imaginable. And that walk of hers--neither fast nor slow, striding nor mincing."
There is nothing happy about this short novel, it's clearly a cautionary tale that is less about being a vegetarian and more about the family unit. The writing is very descriptive, at times bloody and definitely weird at times as well. I think this book will appeal most to Kafka and Murakami fans. For the most part I did enjoy this one -- Translated from Korean.
[Quote] p. 166 - Young-hye (his wife)
"For the first time, she became vividly aware of how much of her life she had spent with her husband. It had been a period utterly devoid of happiness and spontaneity. A time she so far managed to get through only by using up every last reserve of perseverance and consideration. All of it self-inflicted."