This is my first book review and it shouldn’t really be my first because I should have started this a while back ago! I love books as much as I love movies but I always take too long to read them. I have read a few good ones in the past year, so I figured this would be a good chance to give book reviewing a try. The Vegetarian was something I didn’t initially intend to get, in fact I didn’t even knew it existed. I was scanning the store for some Man Booker prize 2016 nominees, until I chanced upon something that caught my eye. The cover is a mystifying image of a white bird’s body almost curled up into a ball, placed in the foreground of neon magenta leaf veins. I turn to the back and it reads, “A beautiful, unsettling novel in three acts, about rebellion and taboo, violence and eroticism, and the twisting metamorphisis of the soul.’ The Irish Times described it as, ‘Most of all, it is about the emptiness and rage of discovering there is nothing to be done when all hope and comfort fails…A work of savage beauty and unnerving physicality.’ This was some twisted stuff I was getting into. Often shocking and potently vivid, Han Kang’s novel is a dark,layered exploration of self and society, and the violence of misunderstanding. In seeking refuge from social oppression, carnality and unresolved rage turns one’s body as the last vessel of refuge.
As you read the book, it becomes clear that ‘protagonist’ Yeong-hye’s seemingly sudden desire to be vegetarian isn’t as innocent as it seems. Far from a fickle urge, Yeong-hye’s flashbacks of her childhood is splashed in lurid and haunting episodes. The building tension within back-and-forth dialogue and fracuturing relationships plunge the characters state of mind into the abyss. Han Kang’s lyricism is taut and sometimes jarring…which is weird because I didn’t find it particularly poetic nor lyrical. The striking feature for me was her economical use of words which seems amplify the impact of her words even more. The graphic and intense imagery is very evocative and often provides nuances in meaning and intepretation. Above all, the book’s three parts are told through the perspective of the people around Yeong-hye (her husband,brother-in-law and sister respectively) which strips her of her own voice and thereby rendering her even more an object of her own and the subject of other’s impression of her. Her true thoughts are never truly embraced while the book charts her own journey of personal desire.
As a satire of oppresive social customs but more importantly as an allegory of the individual self struggling to find a place in her society, Eimear McBride’s comments perfectly sum up my thoughts…’A strange, painfully tender exploration of the brutality of desire indulged and the fatality of desire ignored.’…The Vegetarian is as surreal as it is corporeal. It explores the carnal flesh and the spiritual soul that has been purged,not by one’s own doing, but by inherent chains that restrict our freedom. It is a compelling look at the violent metamorphosis as a reaction to such imprisonment.
A+ This was a very haunting read I have to admit. It’s weirdly comforting because you can feel the character’s plight and you empathize with them but then Han Kang brings you right to the edge of something deeply unsettling time and again and throws you off the rails. It’s enigmatic and arresting and it’s one of those books you just can’t wait to have a discussion with.