Reading this again for a group even though it is a disturbing novel – it’s also exceptionally good – if you can stand to read it.
The first time I appreciated it and I knew it was beautifully done, but I was certain I hadn’t really understood it. This time kind of cleared that up. There are several reasons for me to read a book twice and one is because I think there was substantially more to it than I absorbed in the first reading. That’s this time.
by Han Kang
translated by Debra Smith
2016/ 194 pages
read by Janet Song, Stephen Park 5h 14m
rating: 9 / contemp fiction
Other times it’s just because a book I read awhile back is on a group schedule now. I enjoyed it at the first time and I’ve already have the book (because I buy them) so I read it again. That’s this time, too.
Finally, I think I sometimes read a book just to revisit an old friends but that reason does not apply this time. My first review is at: https://beckylindroos.wordpress.com/2017/01/11/27438/
The Vegetarian consists of a series of first person narratives each of which is basically a stand alone story dealing with the same subject.
Yeong-hye’s husband, a young businessman, tells his part of the story first. His wife, Yeong-hye, is simply a young homemaker. They live in an apartment in modern day Seoul, South Korea and are a supposedly fairly typical couple without children. He thinks of his wife as really ordinary and that’s really all he wants, conformity.
One day Yeong-hye decides not to eat meat anymore due to a horrible dream she has had. At a dinner party with his boss that evening she puts her vegetarianism into action. Her husband is very embarrassed and angry. Yeong-hye is not acting in a manner appropriate to the wife of an up-and-coming businessman so her husband is angry and confused. Later, Yeong-hye does the same thing at her parents’ house which results in her being hit by her father. Being a vegetarian by choice is not something good. conforming, middle class people in Korea do.
Then her sister’s husband narrates the tale of his involvement with Yeong-hye. He is an artist and takes video movies of the two of them in various stages of sex – except they have painted themselves with flowers and he thinks of them as intertwining. His wife, Yeong-hye’s sister, finds the video now both marriages are destroyed. Actually, his treatment of Yeong-hye in the videos is more abuse of her, especially considering her increasingly fragile state.
There is a third section which the sister, In-hye, narrates – I’ll not get into that as it would be spoiler territory but I will say it’s surprising.
This is a novel of inner and outer conflict, about social conformity, about violence to self and others as well as from others in a paternalist society. It’s also about mental illness and the treatment of victims. There is a lot packed into 194 pages – ,