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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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Review; The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian: A Novel - Han Kang

 

The Vegetarian is a captivating and haunting story told in three parts. First published in Korea in 2007, Han Kang's novel will arrive for English-speaking readers in 2016. Spurred by a dream, Yeong-hye religiously adopts vegetarianism to the horror of her husband and family. Actually, horror may be putting it lightly. Whether Korean culture really is this passionate about their meat eating, or such abuse of Yeong-hye is merely the result of the author's dramatic allegory, I do not know. What I do know is that such extreme responses create the spiral that makes this novel so disturbingly addictive.

 

Kang (through her translator Deborah Smith) weaves some vivid language and beautiful sentences in this delicate yet brutal tale. The unraveling of Yeong-hye is done so effectively. The reader is given the unraveling, but not the psychology, not the reason. Sure, we're given pieces of the dream, but only in the vaguest of terms and descriptions. Yet this omission forces us readers to see the story as though it were playing out before our eyes. The story is kept brief and wonderfully paced despite the internal dialogue of the three characters narrating the story.

 

As I read The Vegetarian, I imagined many scenes as they'd play out on film. It's this aforementioned pace and brevity, this lack of internal monologue, that partially makes this happen, but it's also the vividness of the setting and the haunting acts of the story itself. Whether it's made by the Koreans or Japanese or Danish, I suspect I'll see a film adaptation of this novel in the foreign section of the library within three to five years. Yet, having read the book, I feel as though I've already seen the movie—for me, it was that vivid.