Han Kang: 채식주의자 (The Vegetarian)


The latest addition to my website is Han Kang‘s 채식주의자 (The Vegetarian). This book won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. It is a disturbing but superbly written novel. Yeong-hye, a Korean woman, married to Mr. Cheong, is seemingly a good and conventional wife. Suddenly, as the result of an unpleasant dream (she will have several more) gives up all animal products and becomes not just a vegetarian but a vegan. She loses weight, her complexion turns sallow and she refuses to have sex with her husband, as he smells of meat. A serious fight over the issue at a meal at her family’s house leads to her hospitalisation. The next section takes us two years forward, and the focus is on Yeong-ho, Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law, who is sexually attracted to Yeong-hye and wants to paint her naked body. Naturally this does not work out well. The final section finds Yeong-hye in an institution, refusing to eat as she thinks she is a tree. The novel is not, I think, sending any message about vegetarianism, lack of conformity or even insanity but, rather, is a superb attempt to portray, in a novel, a series of images which may be disturbing but are also original and forceful. It definitely deserved the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.

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