Book Review: The Vegetarian

Mar 21, 2017

I'm always on the lookout for interesting thriller novels. I love the genre -- I love feeling the suspense as I rip through pages in a chapter. So when I read the synopsis of The Vegetarian by Han Kang, I was immediately fixated on reading it. Here's a short summary from Goodreads:

"Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another."

Pros: This novel is bizarre. It takes the reader through intense situations and emotions, and it's done so well because of Kang's ability to write such vivid imagery. My favorite part about reading this novel is being able to experience Han Kang's beautiful writing. Her words are concise and clear (the entire book is less than 200 pages), yet they display a fluidity that makes her visions come alive. She flushes out her ideas thoroughly. The stories she told in this novel will stay with me for a very long time, almost as if they were my own memories. By the end of The Vegetarian, I learned a lot. I learned much about Korean culture and societal constructs. More importantly, I learned much about how culture and constructs can alter one's life in monumental ways. And that was a message I truly appreciated.

Cons: Upon reading the synopsis, I believed that this novel would be about, well, cannibalism... or something similarly horrifying. The emphasis on Yeong-hye's dreams was somewhat overplayed. I was disappointed that it wasn't more of a conventional horror. Yes, there are horrifying moments, but not in ways that you'd expect. The true terrors in this story deal with forms of abuse. I warn others that this novel displays a lot of sexism and abuse that can be disturbing. It was hard for me to push through it as a woman, but the final section (sorta, kinda) makes up for it.

Overall: If you're looking for a story of conventional horror, this isn't the book for you. The Vegetarian is deep and complex in beautiful ways. So if you've got a hugely open mind and are interested in learning about social norms, abuse, experience, and metamorphism, this book may be life-changing.

Personal Rating Score: 4/5 (updated)
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