No Happy Nonsense

The Vegetarian / Han Kang (T: Deborah Smith)


February 18th, 2023 | Quick Thoughts

Yeong-hye has a dream, and decides to stop eating meat. Her husband, who sees her as entirely ordinary in every way, cannot make sense of this. Her family likewise does not understand. At a family dinner everyone goes crazy, her father hits her across the face and then forcibly shoves a lump of meat into her mouth. She shrieks, she shakes violently, spits out the meat and grabs a small fruit knife, slits her own wrist. So begins the downfall of Yeong-hye, and her family.

This book was fucking entrancing. There's a slight mystery to the story at first, obviously. "What is Yeong-hye's dream?" "Why does she stop eating meat specifically?" etc.

But soon, it no longer matters. The point of the story is not to figure out what's happening to Y-h. Maybe she really is just have a breakdown. It's the reactions of those around her that we can focus on, the desires of her family to control her actions, to dictate her life.

Later: her brother in law, a video artist, uses her as the subject of his latest work. But he has ulterior motives.

Later still: her sister visits her in asylum. The only family member left to take care of her. Just the two sisters now, one refusing to eat anything, believing herself to be a tree. The other, a now-single mother, with no ties to the rest of her family, visiting her sister every week and trying to do what she can to salvage both of their lives.

And then it ends.


Filed Under: Reviews