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.
This review contains very mild spoilers….
I really don’t know where to begin with this one. It was weird and disturbing in equal measures. Although it is about Yeong-Hye, we never hear from her perspective directly, just from her husband, brother-in-law and sister.
He husband is horrid. He just wants her to be the perfect token wife, to make him look good at dinners and the like, going as far as controlling her clothing choices. As soon as she starts behaving differently he tries to distance himself. When she needs help more than ever he turns his back on her. Like I say. HORRID!
The rest of her family aren’t much better (with the eventual exception of her sister). Her father is brutal and domineering, her mother goes along with it. Her brother is obnoxious and to begin with her sister just sits there and does nothing. There is one scene at a family dinner that had me so angry I couldn’t believe it. I understand that the culture in South Korea is different, and there are different expectations and norms, but none of that excuses the brutal treatment of poor Yeong-Hye.
From the beginning it was pretty obvious to me that there was some form of mental illness going on here, something everyone close to Yeong-Hye seems to be oblivious to.
There is a bizarre relationship between the brother-in-law and Yeong-Hye, which doesn’t end well, and the final part of the book is its’ most redeeming part. Disturbing and distressing it tells of the events inside a psychiatric hospital, from Yeong-Hye’s sisters perspective.
Weighing in at under 200 pages this is an extremely impressive book. Saying it was enjoyable may be inappropriate considering the subject matter, but it is definitely a book I would recommend as I have never read anything like it before.
Brilliantly written (and translated) and very engaging. Trigger warnings for mental illness and eating disorders.
Finished on May 2nd 2017
You can buy the book here if you wish