The Vegetarian by Han Kang

I have been most excited to read this novel. For the longest time, it wasn’t available anywhere near me so I would enviously read reviews about it. Thank you to Edelweiss and the publishers for providing me with this ARC!

Yeong-hye used to be the perfect devoted wife, quiet and willing to please. But when she begins to have nightmares involving blood-soaked images, Yeong-hye makes the drastic decision to renounce eating meat. This decision is in stark contrast to the ideals of society, and is seen as a sign of passive rebellion. But soon the passivity of her resistance manifests in more extreme forms, and with the emergence of a scandal and abuse, Yeong-hye is sent over the edge. Her dangerous endeavour will take Yeong-hye physically and mentally away from her former identity in the most tragic way possible.

This was by far one of the most confusing books I have ever read. The book is split into 3 sections, each written in the perspective of a different character who is affected by Yeong-hye’s actions. Each character describes the transition of Yeong-hye into the land of instability. The first character we are introduced to is Yeong-hye’s husband, and we are shown the first stage of her decline. I found this to be one of the more interesting chapters, probably because it set the stage and was easy enough to follow. It was clear to see how Yeong-hye’s behaviour is not within the bounds that dictate the norms of society in South Korea. I really liked reading about how perplexed those around her were, and the ways in which her husband tried to “fix” her. The next 2 sections are told from the perspective of Yeong-hye’s sister and brother-in-law, who each have their own reasons for helping Yeong-hye. This is when the story began to get a bit murky for me. I didn’t really understand the perspective of the brother-in-law, and it just left me wondering what exactly the author’s purpose was in creating this segment for the story. The sister’s perspective made sense because Yeong-hye was very close with her but other than that, it didn’t really do anything for me; nothing was resolved in the end and I still didn’t really understand what was going on. I had expected that the author would delve a little deeper into the nightmares that led Yeong-hye into her vegetarianism but it really was only hinted at at various points of the story, which was a bit of a disappointment. While this was an intriguing novel, it was very vague and left me with more questions than answers. My overall feeling was of confusion: what was the point of this novel? What was the author highlighting? I understand that the author is reflecting on a number of themes including the confines of society, our lack of understanding of others, and how an obsession can develop and fester …. but there was nothing more that I really gleaned from this novel, nothing new that made me have an “A-ha!” moment. If I’m to be brutally honest, this book was a bit of a let-down, especially after all of the hype it has generated. Maybe I’m the only person who feels this way, but this book only gets a 2/5 stars from me.

Happy reading ~

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