I find it hard to write this review for “The Vegetarian” by Han Kang. I struggle to come up with an opinion about this book and I struggle to find the words – or rather I’m at a loss for words – to describe my reading experience.
I listened to the audio book of “The Vegetarian” last autumn. I remember being repelled yet at the same time inevitably caught by the strange tale and by Han Kang’s impactful writing. The novel tells the story of Yeong-hye in three parts through the perspectives of her husband, her brother-in-law and her sister.
One night Yeong-hye has a dream and suddenly stops eating meat and other animal products. Neither her husband nor her family understands this decision and they try to (violently) force her to eat meat in an intervention that quickly escalates. After that incidence Yeong-hye’s relationships and mental health seem to deteriorate while she begins to act stranger and stranger in the eyes of society.
The story of Yeong-hye and the people around her is a dark exploration of topics such as madness, violence, nature and the strength of social norms. It transgresses boundaries and common conceptions of what is considered to be normal and right.
“The Vegetarian” was a fascinating read but not one that I particularly enjoyed. The darkness of the tale, the cruelty of some scenes and the graphic description felt too close, too permeating to be comfortable. I believe that this is a strength of the book and that it demonstrates Kang’s incredible ability to write captivating stories. However, it is not an experience that I personally ever wish to repeat.
Still I think that “The Vegetarian” is a book that many people will find fascinating and interesting. Yes, it’s dark and intense and a little kafkaesque. But it is also a book that makes you feel and think and that keeps you hooked like a strange nightmare.
Have you read “The Vegetarian”? If yes, what did you think about it?