If my previous review of The Meat Free Monday Cookbook didn't make you want to try Vegetarianism, this book may persuade you.
The Vegetarian was originally published as three linked novellas in Han Kang's homeland of South Korea in 2007, and now the winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize, it is available in a pristine English translation by Deborah Smith. The triptych novel is told in parts through three narrators, all affected by the title's focus, Yeong-hye, as she chooses to become a vegetarian.
The first part of the book is narrated by Yeong-hye's husband Mr. Cheong, an assertive and bland man who has sought out the same in his mate. For a few years their marriage is very routine and mundane, until Yeong-hye starts having graphic dreams of flesh and murder that force her to obtain from eating meat. This decision, and soon obsession, puts strain on her family causing her father to beat her at a family dinner for refusing to take one bite of beef and her husband to leave her with her increasingly odd and secluded behavior.
Part two is narrated by Yeong-hye's brother-in-law, an artist who remains unnamed throughout the book. This part takes a journey into obsession, lust, art, and primitive greed. The brother-in-law also begins to have dreams after his wife, Yeong-hye's sister, tells him that Yeong-hye has a blue birth mark the shape of a petal on her bottom. He becomes obsessed with an image of her body covered in painted flowers. Together, Yeong-hye and her brother-in-law fall farther into isolation and madness over their obsessions.
Part three, Yeong-hye is in a psychiatric hospital and the ending is narrated by her sister,In-hye, a strong character throughout the novel but a focal point now. In-Hye follows the vegetarian’s descent into full-blown madness and the ecstatic belief that she is in the process of becoming a tree. Having seen her whole family crumble to pieces, she is envious of Yeong-hye's total surrender of herself.
This resounding work is one that will stick with you long after the last page. For more award winner's try the Pulitzer winning The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. For another woman's tale of trying to escape it all, try Ladivine by Marie NDiaye.
Review by Stevie Z.