The Vegetarian by Han Kang

I really enjoyed this weird yet entrancing novel (thanks Candice). It had a dreamlike quality throughout and evoked in me a strong sense of compassion. I started off feeling simply sorry for Yeong-hye, because of her shitty husband, who is the first person narrator in the opening chapter. The quality of my compassion changed a little as the reader is progressively given to understand that all is not well in Yeong-hye’s head, as well as in her life. She has disturbing dreams and her strict vegan diet does seem increasingly obsessive.

the-vegetarianCompassion deepens as we follow the heroine’s journey. Her tale is taken up by her brother-in-law in chapter 2 and her sister in chapter 3.  A clever trick of the author is to not give Yeong-hye the narrative voice, except in her dreams, and yet she dominates the entire story and we are sucked into her strange world view.

The book also contains some of the most weird sex scenes I have ever read and these too are entrancing. Overall, the plot is simply told and the story is not that extraordinary. But the telling of it is. This is a short novel and I read it very quickly, pretty much in one sitting. It was not a page turner in the traditional sense of “I wonder what’s going to happen next”. Rather, despite the lack of suspense, it is a highly compelling book, with an ever present blurring of reality and the life inside of Yeong-hye’s head.

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