While scanning over the bookshelves at the library, seeing a book titled, ‘The vegetarian’, while being one, was interesting. Would it actually be about someone with the same diet as me? Would it be pushing some agenda?
What I read was far more painful. At times it felt like I was reading a horror story that didn’t need impossible monsters or prolonged scenes or eery anticipation.
The vegetarian, written by Han Kang, and translated from Korean by Deborah Smith, is not an easy and at times enjoyable read. But, there are aspects of its raw indulgences and brutal engagings’, that makes it hard to leave unread.
Published in Korean as three separate parts, then compiled into a three-act novella which centres around Yeong-hye and her sudden decision to become a vegetarian.
‘I had a dream’ Is Yeong-hye’s explanation throughout the novel.
Each act is narrated from a different perspective. Explored are ugly truths of unsatisfied individuals looking for more, desperate for something better, more desirable but are met with shame.
Act one, from a first-person perspective, explores the life and inner workings of Yeong-hye’s husband, Mr. Cheong. He wakes from his ‘ordinary life’ to his wife’s head peering into the freezer, still and unperturbed, by Mr Cheong. ‘I had a dream.’
Act two, from a third-person perspective, explores the thoughts of Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law, whose name is unstated. He is a video artist, who becomes filled with desires once learning of his sister-in-law’s Mongolian mark.
Act three, still in the third person, follows, In-hye, the only remaining member of Yeong-hye’s family willing to visit her after her mental and physical health decline.
Yeong-hye is a character, who if you read beyond the narration of the other characters perspectives, is an innocent woman, with reasons never truly explained is almost witnessed to becoming a younger and innocent version of herself. One who can’t bare to eat meat and progressively even wear clothing. The people around her can’t seem to understand this, instead to them, she becomes an empty shell of who she used to be, and they are the ones who mould her into this personified Yeong-hye, one who leaves Mr Cheong so unsatisfied he resorts to taking what he needs from her, to In-hye’s husband who warps his art with his sexual desires, and In-hye, who struggles comprehending her sister is not of ‘sound mind.’
This read of a desperate metamorphosis.