Brent Woo's Reviews > The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian by Han Kang
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This was okay. I had it recommended from a friend who I highly regard for his taste in East Asian media of all types and who said it's the "Requiem for a Dream" of books. I was so intrigued by the setup and its being billed as a kind of dietary horror novel. And I'm in love with the American cover. For months I was on the 200-person waitlist for the Seattle library to read this, and it won the Booker prize, and it was finally my turn to read -- I was so excited!

I was pretty disappointed. The 'vegetarian' story was there, but not at all a thriller, or horror, or disturbing. To me it turned out to be just another average broken family drama. Lots of angry family outbursts and extreme reactions that aren't properly built up. I did think it was somewhat clever how you might get broken families from vegetarianism. And the depiction of the key action events in each part is fantastic, I'll hand her that. I actually feel like this would make a better movie than a book; some of the descriptions were intensely visual.

The book structure was fragmented to me. I thought the 3-part, 3-narrator style was novel, but perhaps due to being translated, it just didn't work. Too much mental work having to restart and try to orient the narrative, and the little "recaps" that were put in to "remind" us what happened weren't helpful. I thought the pacing was rough. The first 70% of each part is uninteresting, uncompelling family background that tries to give weight to the actions to come, then the end comes some extreme event.

As far as personal violence and relationship trauma, A Little Life prepared me for much worse; this was extremely tame in comparison. Want another eating disorder thriller (and you find out very quickly that Kang's book is not about vegetarianism at all...)? — check out Stephen King's Thinner. Heck, I know it's not the primary agenda of either book, but The Jungle wins out by far in sickening meat depictions.

One thing I know will be a hot discussion is its portrayal of husband-wife dynamic. Wives (in whatever period this book is in -- they use paper telephone books) are to be absolutely subservient to husbands. This is crucial, to justify the crazy (by American) reaction of the men of the family to the wife's "rebellion", by making her own diet choices. This is a useful text to background a discussion on family gender politics, definitely.

A note on the text: I'm not sure if this is due to the translator or the original text, but there were some words and phrases that came up more than once that are so comically incongruous — "A palimpsest of horrors"; "her face was wreathed in smiles" ; "her philtrum" — each of these phrases came up more than once, and while each of them might be good for one use in a novel, they are so exceedingly rare words its repeated use just stops the prose outright. It's as if in "See Jane Run" they popped in the line: "See Jane Run / See Spot Run / See Jane's Adumbrated Visage". And also — "semiquaver"(p80) in the US edition? Sloppy.
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Reading Progress

June 20, 2016 – Shelved
June 20, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
September 7, 2016 – Started Reading
September 7, 2016 –
page 126
65.63% "Friend told me this is the "Requiem for a Dream" of books - it is certainly delivering."
September 8, 2016 – Finished Reading
February 1, 2017 – Shelved as: what-the

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Brent Woo this reddit post is a retelling of the best part of The Vegetarian, but funnier

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