The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian

A Novel

Book - 2015
Average Rating:
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A beautiful, unsettling novel in three acts, about rebellion and taboo, violence and eroticism, and the twisting metamorphosis of a soulYeong-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.Fraught, disturbing and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.
Publisher: London :, Portobello Books,, 2015
ISBN: 9781846276033
9780553448184
Branch Call Number: F HAN
Characteristics: 183 pages ; 20 cm

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g
Gingerman_0
Dec 29, 2017

Very odd book. Okay read but not recommended

g
GladstoneReader
Nov 11, 2017

This is the first of hopefully more translated works of Korean author Han Kang. It is a disquieting work that traces how one person's change can affect others in a family. The publisher's blurb describes the setup situation quite well, but doesn't, of course, give many hints of the superbly understated narrative flow and the following impacts. Translator's often play the key role in how a novel originally in a foreign language comes across. It is a delicate task in that some Korean terms do not translate well. I assume the translator bases many decisions on how they perceive the writer's intent and makes decisions based on that perception. The translation here by Deborah Smith is hopefully accurate in that the writing is often terse, yet when you put the sentences together a mood, an interior atmosphere, comes successfully across. Also there is a rawness to some scenes that makes them more deeply felt by the reader. The three sections of the novel are from the perspectives of the husband of the vegetarian, the brother-in-law, and the sister. I'll leave it to the reader to decide what negative degree all three were affected by the vegetarian. I do feel that there are some things I don't quite get that the author intended. The book did raise some self examination as to my views on women and femininity, yet I'm still haunted about what else I should have metaphorically tuned in on. I'm putting it on my To Read Again stack for reconsideration a year or so down the road. For me it was time well spent, it challenged my perspectives as a very good novel should, and I look forward to more of Kang's work appearing in English translation.

p
peacebenow
Oct 15, 2017

Didn't really understand what I had selected but found this book unordinary. Given opportunity to look through protagonists eyes into what imagination and choices might bring for this family in Korea bound by their own values.

s
spooner815
Aug 24, 2017

Provocative and captivating. Weird book but I couldn't seem to put it down.

m
mslighthearted
Aug 19, 2017

Um... Have you ever read a book that just left you feeling like you just didn't get it... that you must be less intelligent than you thought? Yes. This one.

AL_TINA Jul 31, 2017

A strangely beautiful book that explores taboos and social rebellion. Quiet yet powerful and filled with violence and eroticism, this book isn't for everyone. If you're looking for a unique read unlike anything you've seen before, this may be it.

j
JLMason
Jun 09, 2017

Beaten in childhood by her father, married off to a self-centred man of no ambition, expected to be the model of a quiet, compliant wife, the repressed woman at the centre of The Vegetarian is a non-entity, representative of the role of women in Korean society. Her story is told in three parts: by her husband in first person, by her artist brother-in-law, and finally by her older sister who all address the woman’s transformation in accordance with their own needs. The meaning of the book does not become clear until the very end. Rich in metaphor, plant imagery as rebellion and rebirth, and sensual eroticism, this book is not for everyone.

h
hanhenkel
May 22, 2017

I thought this was a wonderful story about mental illness and the marginalization of the two main women in the novel. The first two parts are wonderful for setting the stage, and the last third did drag a bit for me, but was important to tell the story of how mental illness affects people differently. A great look at how those with mental illness are treated by those surrounding them, and I found it very compelling that we only hear from "the vegetarian" once or twice, and then she is silenced throughout the rest of the novel, only to be looked at through the eyes of others and never to be fully understood.

m
m0mmyl00
Apr 23, 2017

Yeong-Hye starts out as a totally unremarkable young woman, described by her husband in such as way that we know she is unmemorable in personality and appearance. He likes it that way. He doesn't have to bother with considering her; he just knows that she will keep quiet, do as she's told, and keep his life orderly and predictable.

Then she has a disturbing dream and decides to become vegetarian. This alarms her husband and extended family. They believe her being vegetarian will damage her and them, and their place in society.

I do not see The Vegetarian as a comment on mental illness, at least not Yeong-Hye's. I see it as allegorical. Her dream opens her eyes to the cruelty and repression one group visits upon another to satisfy their own desires and expectations. She counteracts what she sees as cruelty with her own behavior, i.e. becoming vegetarian. To her husband and family, this is unacceptable. They refuse to allow her this freedom to make her own decision and govern her own behavior, even going so far as to force meat into her mouth. Instead of acquiescing, she takes it a step further and begins refusing to eat, and the hospital feeds her intravenously. She begins feeling herself more attuned to plants than to humans, and in fact begins "becoming" a tree, standing on her hands in the hospital in imitation of the way she believes trees stand -- with their arms in the ground.

Han's writing is spare and serene, qualities which add to the mystical feeling of this book. This conceit -- of woman as a plant, alive but not sentient -- is a new one for me, and very interesting. It brings to mind Daphne who begs to be turned into a tree to escape the unwanted advances of Apollo who is chasing her. I am now interested in reading Han's "The Fruit of My Woman," about a woman who lives as a potted plant, with her husband tending her.

clairelegrand Apr 02, 2017

A surreal, haunting story about transformation, mental illness, rebelling against social expectations, living with regret, and being true to oneself--as destructive and ultimately catastrophic as that truth might prove to be. Told in spare prose that describes disturbing imagery and scenes with the same matter-of-fact precision one might use to describe the weather, The Vegetarian asks a lot of questions and doesn't provide many answers. Which, I think, is the point. I didn't emotionally connect with the story, or with the characters (except for, perhaps, the narrator of the third section), but it was nevertheless a riveting and thought-provoking read. I think the imagery and the overall tone--at once both elegiac and clinical--will stick with me for a long time.

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Mark_Daly Jan 05, 2017

Stop eating meat, and the world will devour you whole.

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