The Vegetarian by Han Kang

March 10, 2016
The Vegetarian, Han Kang, Book Review, InToriLex
The Vegetarian


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.


This book unsettled me, the entire way through, which is what the author intended. The reader is an observer of Yeong-hye through the eyes of her abusive husband, brother in law and sister. Each of the chapters are changing point of views that were originally published as separate novellas in  South Korea. This explains why each goes over some of the same events again, but with them all together it didn't work well. The type of prose in this novel was very plain, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks and contrasting sharply with the violent and disturbing images it described. The author explained that she was "thinking about the spectrum of human behavior from sublimity to horror, and wondered if it was really possible for humans to live a perfectly innocent life in this violent world, and what would happen if someone achieved that?" (New York Times)
"She'd been unable to forgive her for soaring alone over a boundary she herself could never bring herself to cross, unable to forgive that magnificent irresponsibility that had enabled  Yeong-hye to shuck off social constraints and leave her behind, still a prisoner."
The first part of this novel immediately had me interested and I was excited to explore what I thought would be Yeong-hye's  mental decline. Being vegetarian in South Korea, is seen as much more strange then it is in the Western World, unless it's for religious or special dietary reasons. The protagonists in this story is doing it because of a dream, and the people who love her aren't willing to accept that. Not only don't they accept it but they lash out violently trying to rein in her choice, her autonomy. The rest of the novel after her husband's description of  Yeong-hye continues to go down hill.  I felt like I was reading something I knew would be beautiful and important to someone else, but it just did not work for me.
The Vegetarian, Han Kang, Book Review, InToriLex
The pacing of the novel is haphazard and became so slow, it got boring. The husband, brother in law and sister all resent that Yeong-hye has found a way to escape the boundaries of society and remains oblivious to everything but what she wants. This was interesting, but could have been described in less pages, and was hard to digest with how it was written.  Even allegory's are supposed to stand up as a story in their own right, and this did not. I was disappointed because of how much potential this had after the first part, and the good writing but it just fell flat. I would recommend this to readers looking to explore a bizarre South Korean take on human nature, who enjoy more artsy than practical literature.
"But this was nothing so crass as carnal desire, not for her-- rather or so it seemed, what she had renounced was the very life that her body represented."
I received this book from BloggingforBooks in exchange for a honest review.

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