The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a compelling, terrifying, dark and strangely hypnotizing read. Oh did I forget to mention disturbing? Author Han Kang holds no punches, detailing the abuse that the protagonist face at the hands of love ones. There is one scene in which her abusive father forces meat into her mouth. What’s even more unsettling is the fact that no one helps. They all just seat there and watch. Or in the case of her husband and brother, they hold Yeong-hye down.
Seriously, The Vegetarian by Han Kang reads more like a horror novel than a literary masterpiece about the metamorphosis of the mind, body and soul. Of one trying to find a bit of control in a world that doesn’t let you.
From beginning to end I was captivated by the author’s prose that is both elegant and disturbing—yet, somehow tender. Told in 3 parts, you the reader watches, like a film reel as Yeong-hye life and mental state slowly and painfully spirals out of control. It all started with a dream that quickly turns into a nightmare. Yeong-hye, our ethereal protagonist, decides to become vegetarian after a rather troubling dream. The only thing, is that it’s pretty much taboo and her love ones don’t take it so well. As I’ve say before, her father tries to force her to eat meat and her husband is an asshole before and after the decision of Yeong-hye desire to stop eating meat.
Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way. To be frank,….I wasn’t even attracted to her. Middling height; bobbed hair;…jaundiced, sickly-looking skin; somewhat prominent cheekbones; her timid, sallow aspect told me all I needed to know.
Sadly, Yeong-hye asshole of a husband isn’t the only one to treat her in a horrible manner. Nope her brother in-law is up there too. With each part of the novel you read, the more horrid and depressing the book gets. You can’t help but cringe and feel empathy for Yeong-hye as her mental state dissolves before our very eyes, while the people you would hope to help, chose instead to be abusive to a vulnerable woman and think of themselves.
By the end you understand why Yeong-hye is the way she is. Why her mind broke in that way. Also, by the end you feel the need for a shower. Just to cleanse your mind of the strangeness and brutality that is this novel.
I’ll warn you, that The Vegetarian is not for the faint of heart. It has abuse and rape and other disturbing instances packed into this 192 page character study. If you do decide to read, just know that this book, this story is upsetting and unforgettable and will stay with you for a long time. Oddly, it’s poetic as well.
Intolerable loathing, so long suppressed. Loathing I’ve always tried to mask with affection. But now the mask is coming off.
That shuddering, sordid, gruesome, brutal feeling…Everything starts to feels unfamiliar. As if I’ve come up to the back of something. Shut up behind a door without a handle. Perhaps I’m only now coming face-to-face with the thing that has always been here.