‘The Vegetarian’ by Han Kang

When Yeong-hye gives up eating meat, her husband is baffled. Her decision constitutes only a miniature act of rebellion, but its consequences reverberate throughout their family. We never hear directly from Yeong-hye herself; rather, her story is told in three parts by her husband, her brother-in-law, and her sister. The novella explores themes of family loyalty, sexuality, madness, and artistic expression, as well as considering the right of individuals to control the bodies which they inhabit.

 

Its difficult to know what to say about this haunting, visceral reading experience. I found The Vegetarian completely intoxicating. It is a darkly atmospheric work, and the prose is pleasingly taught – reflecting the novella’s underlying sense of tension, which is as delicious and addictive as it is discomfiting. As a character, Yeong-hye remains suitably inscrutable, but the personalities of the three narrators are powerfully conveyed. The Vegetarian is perfect for fans of Kazuo Ishiguro’s spectacular debut A Pale View of Hills, or Shirley Jackson’s excellent novella We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It is a very short book, but it will linger with you long after its final page.

han-kang
Han Kang
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