Published by Hogarth on February 2, 2016
Genres/Lists: Diverse, Fiction
Read synopsis on Goodreads
Buy the book: Amazon/Audible (this post includes affiliate links)
As a vegetarian, I was looking forward to picking up The Vegetarian by Han Kang (tranlsated by Deborah Smith). The premise sounded interesting – a woman who gives up meat following a disturbing dream, thus uprooting her life and affecting those around her. Living in a culture where vegetarianism isn’t widely accepted and in a society where women are expected to defer to their husbands, the book is billed as, “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.”
Told through the eyes of three different people over the course of several years, The Vegetarian is written in a style the demands a quick read. The story of Yeong-hye and her spiral into living as a plant was fascinating but in the end, I don’t think I got it. That’s not to say I didn’t pick up on the allegories – the discussions about familial obligation, marital submission, and the chastising of vegetarianism were quite obvious and certainly provoked a thought and observation on my part, but by the end of the book I felt I had missed whatever it is that has made this book such a hit. I’m left with the impression that the point of the book is less about Yeoung-hye’s actions and more about her circumstances, but based on what I knew about the book, I was prepared for the exact opposite. The result was that I had a hard time reconciling my expectations with reality.Time was a wave, almost cruel in its relentlessness - The Vegetarian by Han Kang Click To Tweet
As disappointing as this was, I still recommend The Vegetarian and recognize that my own preconceptions likely have played a part in my reaction. I didn’t know a lot about the book, but what I did know didn’t prepare me for it. It is a short, well-written book that’s slightly disturbing and is truly unique in its storyline. The anxiety Yeong-hye feels following her dream is palpable and I had a lot of sympathy for her situation, particularly the events that followed her dietary change. Perhaps if the book was more focused on circumstances, rather than actions, I would have felt a stronger connection but instead I was left perplexed (and the weird sex sections really threw me through a loop).
Recommended for: Those who prefer subtle societal undertones in combination with a unique storyline.