Book Review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Her profile swam toward me out of the darkness. I took in her eyes, bright but not feverish, as her lips slowly parted. “I had a dream.”

Desperate to keep the vicious nightmares at bay, Yeong-hye renounces the consumption of meat. To her, eating meat represents the violence that plagues the world and she is fraught to escape it.

Nobody can help me. Nobody can save me. Nobody can make me breathe.

Her change in culinary preference remains unaccepted by her family, particularly her husband, father and sister. Despite her attempts to explain the root cause she is shut out and forced to conform which further exacerbates her suffering. Resigned, Yeong-hye pulls inward and shoulders up to the images and thoughts that haunt her.

Her voice had no weight to it, like feathers. It was neither gloomy nor absentminded, as might be expected of someone who was ill. But it wasn’t bright or lighthearted either. It was the quiet tone of a person who didn’t belong anywhere, someone who had passed into a border area between states of being.

She floats along, soon renouncing all sustenance and slowly transforming from a living being to something else, which she welcomes wholeheartedly. A brief glimmer of life flickers by as she becomes a part of her brother-in-laws art project- transformed into a canvas of flowers which feeds her desire for beauty and peace.

Her calm acceptance of all these things made her seem to him something sacred. Whether human, animal or plant, she could not be called a “person,” but then she wasn’t exactly some feral creature either- more like a mysterious being with qualities of both.

The Vegetarian chronicles one woman’s slow descent into madness. We gain an intimate look a mental illness and its effect on family as the story is told through the narratives and observations of three family members. Faced with the decline of Yeong-hye, her husband, brother-in-law and sister are forced to examine their own life wherein they discover their vulnerability and just how close to descending into madness they truly are. Kang proves that life is always teetering on a fragile edge.

Yeong-hye’s eyes shone. A mysterious smile played on her face. “You’re right. Soon now, words and thoughts will all disappear. Soon.” Yeong-hye burst into laughter, then sighed. “Very soon. Just a bit longer to wait, sister.”

 

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A review copy of this title was provided by Crown-Hogarth via Blogging For Books

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