“The Vegetarian” by Han Kang is this year’s winner of the Man Booker International Prize and was the set book for one of my book clubs last month. I had a hunt for it in one of my local book shops, and I was surprised at how small (and how shiny) it was. The cover is quite striking with a bright white bird wing juxtaposed against the red veins of a leaf. Beautiful, but somewhat visceral.
Originally published in Korean, “The Vegetarian” is about a woman called Yeong-hye who, after having a nightmare, decides to renounce eating meat. Her decision is met with shock, anger, despair and even violence by her husband, family and society. As Yeong-hye retreats further into her photosynthetic fantasy, she seems to become at once vulnerable and empowered. Any attempts to get her to eat meat only strengthen Yeong-hye’s resolve, and her family wonder how far her protest will go.
This book was a slap in the face. I had no idea what to expect, and my eyebrows were raised almost to my hairline while I was reading this. Kang’s novel is as exquisite as it is disturbing. While her scenes are so vividly described as to be almost tangible, the character of Yeong-hye is left quite ambiguous. Yeong-hye could be anyone, and shows just how fine a line the path between passionate conviction and insanity really is.
“The Vegetarian” has been one of my favourite reads this year. I stayed up all night finishing this book, eyes wide. It is so original and outrageous yet at the same time quite plausible. A phenomenal read, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for some excellent literature.