Book review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Synopsis

Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision is a shocking act of subversion. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, leading her bland husband to self-justified acts of sexual sadism. His cruelties drive her towards attempted suicide and hospitalisation. She unknowingly captivates her sister’s husband, a video artist. She becomes the focus of his increasingly erotic and unhinged artworks, while spiralling further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming – impossibly, ecstatically – a tree.

Review

I feel like a right idiot saying this… but I just didn’t get this one. I don’t think it was pretentious or ‘fake deep’, I genuinely do think something meaningful occurred here, but I missed it.⁠

I really liked the writing style in this one, it was forthright yet elegant but the story it told was lost on me. I understand certain themes were explored, like rebellion of the norm, obsession, lust, desire, and the patriarchy, but I can’t figure out how those all came together to create this story.⁠

The book is split out into 3 parts with 3 different narrators. I really enjoyed part one, following the misogynistic, cruel, and downright evil husband telling the story of his changing wife, and had it continued to tell that story, I definitely would have been more invested. I enjoyed part two also, though not as much. A lot was explored in this section about lust and desire, and we were privy to many an erection throughout. Part three is where it lost me the most, not just in terms of understanding but also in interest. ⁠

After reading many a review on Goodreads, I’m still none the wiser and also I’m glad I’m not the only one who was a bit confused by it all.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


Book Details:

Pages: 183
Edition Published:
2016, Portobello
Genre: Contemporary, Literary Fiction
Goodreads Av. Rating: 3.58

3 Replies to “Book review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang”

  1. I plan to read this book quite soon, I’m really curious how the experience will be. Some time ago it was a hyped book in my country, I was seeing it everywhere.
    What convinced me to give it a try was a video of the writer – I liked her approach to the participation in the Future Library project 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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