The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Han  Kang`s novel  hails the arrival of  Korean fiction after winning The International Manbookers Prize. 


It also demonstrated the  power of the short-story as an art form.veg More than this, the book is a triumph of translation as an art-form. It reads effortlessly, so much so, that you can hear the  characters voices shout off the pages.

As for her writing, there is a unmistakable  dark and delicious texture, due in part to  Hang`s imagination  and to the translator`s dexterity.  It`s no surprise that  translator Deborah Smith also won the International Manbooker`s prize and deservedly so for Kang`s first translated novel.

Han Kang delivers a novel that says a lot about how brutality and emotional cruelty is often dressed up in middle class polite society.

Yeong-hye is a woman trapped in what seems to be a loveless marriage, the husband is an office worker on the rise and his dutiful albeit “dull” wife to all and sundry appears to be  in an ordinary marriage. It`s the word “ordinary” or unremarkable which becomes some something of a slur, a put-down. In fact right from the outset, the reader is treated to the husband`s own caustic commentary .

Before my wife turned vegetarian. Id always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way. To be frank, the first time met her, I wasn’t even attracted to her”

The book shows how women are objectified and subjected to the vilification of men. They are in fact subordinates to the will of men and the ebb and flow of their machismo. The novel  is far from  academic or prosaic in its treatment, but deeply atmospheric and you are simply locked into it from beginning to  end. More then a telling reflection on the subjugation of women to just second class citizens, its an illustration of how society develops animal pack mentality in its treatment of the “other”.

The allegorical story shows how we  castigate and brutalize non- conformers and  become  feral or “animal-like” ourselves. The wife`s  denial of meat is seen as an act of defiance, or an act of rebellion against her middle-class existence even to the point that she “denies” her husband`s own conjugal rights in the bedroom.

 Somehow we become complicit in the whole affair, whilst we are disturbed and disgusted, we have ring-side seats to this tawdry affair.

Of course there`s a cinematic quality to the book but much more than this, it is the  stripped back and  fat-free writing, which may be economical with words, but so  powerful in its intent. For horror fans, her imagination dishes up some wonderfully dark scenes of domestic discord with a chill factor of minus 10, reminiscent of Japanese suburban horror films such as The Ring.  If this is anything to go by, The  Vegetarian will leave you with an appetite for more Korean fiction  and then some.

The Vegetarian. Author Han Kang Published by Portobello Books. (183 pages) Translated by Deborah Smith . Priced £7.99 from all good bookshops

Philip Chadha 

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The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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