The Vegeterian – Han Kang – Review

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I can’t remember exactly who recommended The Vegetarian but they praised it no end. They said it was a weird and powerful book that truly spoke to them. I read it and was just a bit ‘meh’ about it all. The blurb sets up a book that I believed I would be able to sink my teeth into: “A beautiful, unsettling novel in three acts, about rebellion and taboo, violence and eroticism, and the twisting metamorphosis of a soul.” Now that sounds like something I would thoroughly enjoy reading. Beautiful imagery, a rebellion against the norm and a taboo. I was thoroughly excited to read it. Like I said though, I was just a bit ‘meh’ about The Vegetarian.

The main issue, for me, liesof in the narrative. Three separate acts told from the perspective of three different people who all have some connection to the titular vegetarian. Even though the events of the novel are told chronologically, it still feels disjointed as if Kang doesn’t want to make the reader aware of everything that is occurring. One of the most powerful literary tools Kang implements is that of Yeong-hye’s dreams. The only time the most protagonist gets a voice. However, the inclusion of these segments is short lived and fail to make an appearance from Act 2 onward. Now, I can understand not giving the Yeong-hye a voice. It should evoke the feeling in the stomach, that ache wherein you want to desperately know what they are thinking. This works, as each dislikeable character inflicts their own needs onto the books subject we become frustrated and aggrieved that Yeonge-hye seems to give no shits about what is happening to her. If she does, we don’t know about it.

Despite a few hang-ups, the narrative is beautifully written, and Kang’s poetic background shines through consistently in the story, which is both uncomfortable and brutal. The translation from Korean to English by Deborah Smith was immaculate with none of the imagery becoming lost or confused.

To conclude the vegetarian left me with mixed feelings. It wasn’t a bad book but I didn’t love it, after finishing there was no desperation to know more and no sadness that it was over. We know this review is short but so is The Vegetarian. It’s hard to write a passionate review about a book that didn’t make you feel any passion.

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