Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Vegetarian; Han Kang

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."



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40 comments:

  1. I've seen mixed reviews on this one. I'm not sure it's for me.

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  2. I really wanted to read this book until I started reading reviews. Now I think I'll pass.

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    1. Yes, the reviews are mixed - not for everyone for sure.

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  3. Wow, how fascinating...and somewhat horrible, too. LOL. I found the part about the husband smelling like "meat" rather hilarious.

    Thanks for sharing...and I don't know if I could read this one, but I am curious. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I cracked up at that part as well, and though BRAVO for her he was such a jerk!

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  4. Well, I am a fan of Murakami so this might just work for me!

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  5. I'm sure not sure about that one!

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  6. My interest is piqued after reading your review! This one has been on many anticipated lists. I think I will have to take a look.

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  7. This book sounds different which really appeals to me. I love books that are a bit strange. Definitely going to check this one out.

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  8. Hmm... I'd like to read this, but I have so many books in my TBR piles! Excellent review, Diane. You've whetted my interest in The Vegetarian.

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    1. I know the feeling of just too many books to read.

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  9. I liked the first part. After that I felt it lost it's way. Just too weird for me, and I usually like weird.

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  10. Probably not for me, sounds sad and odd and my TBR- stacks are towering with books that are must reads for me.

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  11. This sounds like such an interesting book, although I am still on the fence about it.

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  12. I have been seeing this one around. I really must check it out.

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  13. I read and greatly admired this book. I see it in part as a commentary on the very conformist nature of modern Korean society. The husband fears his wife will shame him at company dinner. The family dinner seen was horrific. After finishing this book I at once read her work on the bloody 1981 riots in Korea, Human Acts. In the Vegetarian I last liked the action told from the point of view of the brother in law

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    1. Yes, the dinner scene was priceless for sure. I'm glad u enjoyed this one Mel.

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  14. i have been seeing this everywhere now i want to read it.

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  15. I'm been waffling over whether to read this one for awhile. I've seen so many mixed reviews...but, for some reason, I'm newly intrigued with each review I read!

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    1. LOL - Don't you hate when that happens. I often say I'm not going to read a certain book, and, then as the reviews hit the blogs I can't resist.

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  16. I have to say, this has been my favourite book of the year - I found the glimpse into Korean society fascinating, constraining and scary.

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    1. Emma, I never read a book about Korean society before this so, yes learning about that was great.

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  17. I don't think this one's for me. I have a hard time with weird books.

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    1. I'm not a huge fan of weird stories but this was king of fascinating in many ways.

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  18. I enjoyed the first quarter of this book more than the rest of it. But the writing (translation?) is certainly beautiful and I would love to read more by this author.

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  19. You and I could share bookshelves. We are always reading the same books. Usually, you get to them first ;) I just got a copy of this one yesterday. Did you see the other cover... the deceptively innocent cover. I am including a link to it. Look closely. http://www.amazon.com/The-Vegetarian-Novel-Han-Kang/dp/1846275628

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  20. I also liked this book though it left me feeling drained. I liked the middle section the best for the intense story telling. Here is my review: http://www.keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2016/03/the-vegetarian.html

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  21. Sounds like a rough but dramatic read. Wild.

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