The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a novel that couldn’t be further away from a book about being vegetarian. It is the journey, divided in three parts, of people trying to gain control over their own lives, while succumbing to desperate measures.
The writing style is beautiful and sometimes poetic. The first part of the book is a dark narration on how Yeong-hye decided to turn vegetarian after having a nightmare. The horror of the brutal dreams she had made her spiral into an obsession with purging herself.
I think this one was the strongest part of the book. It was told from the perspective of the husband and I found this approach to mental disorders original and illustrating, showing how they impact everyone around the sufferer and how they too must learn to cope with them.
I’ve seen this novel being compared to the works of Kafka but it reminded more of Haruki Murakami, both in the writing style and depiction of surrealist images in a contemporary story.
The second third of the book was even more brutal than the first, but it was equally fast-paced and revealing.
First of all, I disliked the hype around this book, because people all around are writing reviews about how it is adorned by magical realism. This point is not a critique on the novel itself, I just want to clarify that there was not a single line of magical realism in The Vegetarian. There were characters with mental disorders like schizophrenia who are, evidently, unreliable narrators.
Something that did bother me about the novel was that it had a lot violence, abuse and neurosis going on. Though I was warned about this, it was still difficult to read and at some points barely enjoyable. I understand that the book was trying to portray the rawness of suffering mental disorders in first or second hand, I just couldn’t stomach some scenes even if they were narrated gracefully.
There’s also a whole page describing the murder of a dog, which I had to skip. (It’s on page 49 if you have the edition pictured here.)
The last third of the book was a bit slower and it was written in a completely different style, so it kind of broke the immersion for me.
- People who want to read about dealing with a mental disorder
- People looking for a short novel rich in content
- Anyone interested in Korean literature
- Haruki Murakami fans (looking for a darker twist)
- People with other people close to give them a hug (if needed)
Do you like to read books about mental disorders? (and do you have any favorites?) What are your thoughts on The Vegetarian? 🙂
I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.