The Vegetarian by Han Kang is one of the most unusual books that I’ve read for a long time. Set in Korea, it tells the story of a young woman’s decision to become a vegetarian and the consequences of that decision for her and her family.
Yeong-hye decides to turn from eating meat following a horrific dream and the reawakening of memories from her childhood. Her husband, who narrates the first part of the book, cannot understand what has come over his ordinary little wife; Yeong-hye distances herself from him and her family as lack of empathy and antagonism grow.
The second part of the book is told from the point of view of Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law. He is an artist, whose obsession with an idea and with a mark on his sister-in-law’s body lead to catastrophic outcomes for the whole family.
Yeong-hye’s sister plays a major role in the final section of the book. She questions herself about her reactions to the past and how she could have protected her sister.
However, the book was so much more than the above synopsis.I think it describe the chaos which lurks under the surface of many of our lives, waiting for a trigger to set it free from the constraints that society and we ourselves put upon it. It deals with abuse, obsession and guilt and the effects that these can have on the mind. Unless the ensuing turmoil is dealt with, with understanding, love and acceptance, catastrophe is never far away.
This is a book which will linger long in my mind.The writing is beautifully poetic in places, in contrast with much of the subject matter.