Sunday, February 07, 2016

The Vegetarian, by Han Kang: The Great Polarizor

When I tweet the title of a book and "whoa," it can mean several different things, but in the case of Han Kang's The Vegetarian, it meant "this is f-blanking weird and kind of amazing." Bizarre because it's about a woman who suddenly rejects eating meat after a series of bad dreams and whose life fully falls into the realm of the creepy for the rest of the book. Amazing because it's compelling enough that I read it in one sitting mostly because it was creepy and bizarre. Catch-22, yo. Can't look away.

Note: I did receive this book from the publisher in consideration of an honest review. I don't think there's anything more honest than the title of this post. Also, I completely make up words like "polarizor." 

Yeong-hye is our main character, and her story is told in three parts. The first is her asshole husband narrating her decision and her changing habits as she rejects meat, stops serving it to him, and disrupts his life. This section also includes some really disturbing separation from her family and the beginning of a continual process of being estranged from the people around her. The second section is told by her brother-in-law who is much kinder than her husband but also equally messed up and abusive. The final section is narrated by her sister who struggles with the urges to "fix" Yeong-hye or let her be...even if that's a near-impossible decision. 

SO. MANY. THINGS going on in this novel. And it's short...only 197 pages (my e-galley was even shorter). Sadly, I am not as educated on South Korea as I probably should be, but I think anyone with an even passing interest in the news will see how this could be a critique of South Korean culture...especially of decisions that go against cultural norms. Yeong-hye is immediately an oddity and then a freak for rejecting meat in the eyes of everyone: husband, family, strangers. 


As the story progresses, Yeong-hye becomes more "plant like." She likes to sun herself, shucks off clothing at every available opportunity, neeeeeds water. It's pretty clear there's something bigger going on than a dream and a decision to eat meat or not. She's changing, becoming less of the world, and those around her take advantage or they don't. It's fairly heartbreaking to see her losing her agency...but did she ever have much to speak of? 


So why the title of this post? There's no doubt this will be a polarizing book because I already see the ratings split in my Goodreads friends list. It's gruesome at times. While the writing is beautiful and compelling, there's a lot of mentally filling in the gaps, a lot of ambiguity throughout. I loved it, and I was surprised to have enjoyed it as much as I did because in the first section I considered setting it aside. I'm glad I endured and gave it a chance because there's so much to discuss. It would definitely be a great book club pick if your book club likes a certain level of disagreement to stoke discussion. 


Have you read anything outside your comfort zone yet this year? Anything that confronted you? 


February 2016, Hogarth

ISBN: 0553448188


32 comments:

  1. Glad to hear you liked it so much. I love odd-ish books, but can't read those that give me bad dreams.

    http://readerbuzz.blogspot.com/2016/02/a-tech-of-week-technology-conference-in.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This one wasn't quite that gory or out there. In the end, just sad more than anything.

      Delete
  2. I get a kick out of things that I read or see and can't even decide if I liked it. In fact, "did you like it?" doesn't feel like a relevant question. For me, last week, it was the film Chi-Raq.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right? I agree. Sometimes the books that I appreciate but don't really like are the ones that stick with me most.

      Delete
  3. This sounds pretty far outside of my comfort zone... one of those books I'd never pick up unless my book club decides to read it. Secretly hoping they will.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL, I think it would be suchhhh a good book club book. So many things to discuss.

      Delete
  4. I'm not sure I would get the ambiguous parts but you've certainly piqued my interest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you give it a try if you get a chance!

      Delete
  5. I have been wondering about this book every since I heard about it. I think your review is great and lays it all out for anyone who wants to crack the spine on this one. I am surprised that it is so short, or I guess I just didn't realize it was that short.

    OK, I'm up for it... I think... Thanks for sharing!

    Chick with Books

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Suzanne! It's such an odd blend of weird and important. It's hard to write that!

      Delete
  6. I've read several reviews of this book and they all leave me totally intrigued! Definitely one to keep on my radar. Great review, Andi!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Snatch it if you get a chance! Such a quick read, too!

      Delete
  7. I wasn't sure about picking this up because it sounded so strange, but I've read nothing but good things about it, so I'm reconsidering :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh good!!! I hope you love it as much as I did if you decide to give it a go!

      Delete
  8. I usually like reading weird, uncomfortable books - there often ends up being so much to talk about. I have this one on my list already. This is a great review - it gives a really good sense of what it will be like.
    The only book I've read so far this year that might count as being outside my comfort zone is The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante. It was a thought-provoking novel about the way society feels about 'unnatural' mothers. At one point in the book, the protagonist does something kind of surprising, and I've been dying to discuss it ever since.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I am glad you enjoyed the read and did not leave midway. I have not read the book. But I have heard reviews saying it is a compelling read

    ReplyDelete
  10. I have this one on my kindle, but was hesitant to read it. Now I'm not. You make it sound so good that I just know I will enjoy it. Great post!!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I had zero interest in reading this book, but your review has me second-guessing my decision!

    ReplyDelete
  12. From what I've read about this book, I agree that it might be a polarizing story. I definitely want to read it.

    ReplyDelete
  13. When I first read the NetGalley blurb, it didn't jump out at me—I was worried it was going to be too moralizing. But now that you've summarized it, I am totally intrigued. I'd love to see the Socratic Salon take on this book, since it's likely to get such a mixed reception. I'm glad you stuck with it and enjoyed it!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I've had this on my TBR and heard such mixed things about it....SO, yes, I think you nailed it with your post title!! I might pick it up - especially now that I know it's under 200 pages (didn't realize that).

    ReplyDelete
  15. I've really enjoyed the books by Korean authors I've read over the past few years so I've had my eye on this. Hope to get my hands on it soon!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I read something in The Guardian about this book and as soon as I realized it was bat-shit weird, I added it to my list. Because, how can I not?

    ReplyDelete
  17. It does sound weird, and different, but also very intriguing. Will certainly look it up. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Wow, you finished this one pretty fast! And you are right - this can easily be done in one sitting. I'm only a little more than halfway through right now and all I want to do is finish the book. Hopefully another few days. I am loving this one.

    ReplyDelete
  19. My finger slipped and I "accidentally" requested this from Blogging for Books/NetGalley. I was looking forward to it before but now I'm super effing excited after reading this post. Is it weird enough for me to save for the weirdathon next month?

    ReplyDelete
  20. I wish I still had my book club from my old job! Everyone there was real real smart, so it was good to discuss books like this with them, where they might have a variety of different views, but I'd definitely come away with a lot to think about. I've been seeing The Vegetarian around in a lot of different places and haven't felt hugely drawn to it -- I wonder if it would be fun to read it in conjunction with Fates and Furies, a very different but also multiple povs book about an unhappy marriage. It'd be an interesting comparison at least, eh?

    ReplyDelete
  21. I was kinda meh about this one. When I think even more about it, I think I end up having a disagreement with myself!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Oh my god, this sounds SO GOOD. I want to read it so badly. I'm on the list for it at the library... hopefully it gets here in time for #weirdathon! Also, can we talk about that cover?

    ReplyDelete
  23. This review is exactly why I won't even bother to write one- you nailed it. This book was almost beyond my comprehension- the only take-away I had was that every single man in it was a tool. I just could not understand the depths of Yeong-hye's illness and so the the book lost its impact for me.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I can't wait to read it. Received it as well for review. I have a couple more to read before that

    ReplyDelete
  25. This book has really grown on me since I finished it. I've come to see it as a feminist fairy tale and have added it to my buy list, as something worth re-reading.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for taking the time to comment! Blogger has been a beast lately, so I hope you do not have any troubles leaving your thoughts.

 
Images by Freepik