The Vegetarian

Paperback, 192 pages

English language

Published Sept. 10, 2017 by imusti, Granta Books.

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5 stars (2 reviews)

Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more 'plant-like' existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision is a shocking act of subversion. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, leading her bland husband to self-justified acts of sexual sadism. His cruelties drive her towards attempted suicide and hospitalisation. She unknowingly captivates her sister's husband, a video artist. She becomes the focus of his increasingly erotic and unhinged artworks, while spiralling further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming - impossibly, ecstatically - a tree.

Fraught, disturbing and beautiful, The Vegetarian is …

4 editions

Culturally translatable ascetism

5 stars

This was a difficult book to finish. I wanted to finish it, for about a week, but the last 50 or so pages are emotionally harrowing. Hard work.

Stylistically beautiful. Terse and without any extraneous detail, it reads a bit like a ascetic philosophical exploration of decisions in society.

A lot of other reviews (and the blurb above) focus on the book's setting in Korea -- traditionally meat-heavy diet, traditionally rigid patriachal family structure etc. I didn't find this -- apart from the names of people (which are few) and the descriptions of food, there is very little to locate this book in space or time beyond being somewhat modern.

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rated it

4 stars