Full House Challenge – The Vegetarian – Han Kang

Genre: South Korean Literature, Madness, Family

Narrative Style: First and Third Person

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2007

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Yeong-Hye decides to stop eating meat, much to the annoyance of her husband who makes no effort to understand her reasons. When questioned, she replies that she had a dream and after that, she had to stop eating meat. It is a dream of violence and blood and she finds it impossible to put into words exactly why she can no longer eat meat. After a disastrous visit to her parents’ home, her family life begins to fall apart and she ends up in the asylum.

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre: Diversity

 This was a very strange read. I must admit that I don’t know that much about South Korea’s culture. That was one of the reasons this book appealed to me. Having said that, if I had just a little more knowledge, it might have made more sense to me.

The novel is split into three sections. The first is narrated by Yeung-hye’s husband (with italicised sections that describe her bloody dreams) as she makes the decision to give up meat. He is not a very understanding man and comes across as harsh in his treatment of her. However, it is also apparent that the social mores in South Korea have no place for this woman who has decided to stop eating meat. No one can understand her position and her husband is no better or worse than any of her family. The section ends with a visit to her family which finishes with her father trying to force her to eat meat, an act of violence that seems akin to rape it is so cruel.

The next two sections are written in the third person. The second is from the point of view of Yeung-Hye’s brother in law who becomes obsessed with her birthmark which he calls a ‘Mongolian Mark’. He begins to create strange, pornographic art works which have her at the centre. Finally, in the third section, which is from the point of view of her sister, In-Hye, Yeung-Hye is in the hospital and is refusing to eat anything. She believes that she will transform into a tree and so no longer needs human nourishment.

There are many things that Yeung-Hye’s retreat into madness could represent. It transpires that their father was always a cruel man and that Yeung-Hye has always been attempting to escape. There are also the strict social rules of South Korea which leave little space for creativity. Finally, it could be seen an attempt to escape the violence of life and to live innocently.

I did enjoy this book. I’m not sure I fully understood it and I think it would definitely stand up to a re-reading. But it certainly sparked my curiosity and opened up a new reading area for me.

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