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The Vegetarian
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2016 Book Discussions > The Vegetarian - Part 2 (July 2016)

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Marc (monkeelino) | 2824 comments Mod
This thread is for discussing parts of the book up through Part 2 (no spoilers from Part 3, please).

Part 2 is told from the brother-in-law's perspective.

A couple starter questions (feel free to chime in with your own thoughts and comments):
- How does the shift in perspective/narrative impact the story?
- What does this part of the book say about control?


Dianne | 224 comments I just finished this section. My one word opinion is : creepy.

- How does the shift in perspective/narrative impact the story?

The shift in narrative impacts the story quite a bit, in my opinion. For one, Yeong-hye is perceived in a completely different one by the brother-in-law and the husband. The perception of the brother-in-law is interesting as he finds her compelling, fascinating and worthy of obsession while her husband basically thinks she is a waste of human space even before her determination to become a vegetarian (aside from her cooking, perhaps). Through this second part you are able to delve more into the mind of Yeong-hye beyond just the brief, disturbing and bizarre snippets of her dreams that are presented in the first part. And you also see the evolution of her character from an utterly ordinary and average woman to a person almost transcending the world of humanity.


- What does this part of the book say about control?

Control is a key theme throughout this book, in the first part we see that the husband has complete control over his wife and she 100% goes along with it, he is shocked the one day she doesn't hand him his clothes to put on for work. Perhaps her possible breakdown is due to her finally snapping under this restrictive life, and her vegetarianism is a way to take back that control. But she shuns more than just meat eating, she shuns societal conventions (who needs clothes, anyways?) and basic orderliness, among other things. At the same time, she is perfectly content to go along with her ex brother-in-law's bizarre schemes and artistic plans, although perhaps this is because they are consistent with her own ambition to move beyond the confines of being human and experience life in a different way.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2395 comments Creepy indeed. I found the brother-in-law to be even worse than the husband in his abuse. He misused his mentally ill sister-in-law and took advantage of his wife, who seems to have been the breadwinner for the family.


Hugh (bodachliath) | 2802 comments Mod
The shift in narrative perspective was interesting, and this section was disturbing for different reasons. I have now finished the book which makes it difficult to comment on this section in isolation.


message 5: by Viv (new) - rated it 5 stars

Viv JM | 62 comments This felt almost like a totally different book, but I guess that's not totally surprising, as this was originally 3 separate novellas, from what I understand.

Linda - I also found this section extremely creepy. At first I thought the brother-in-law saw Yeong-hye in a more positive light, but then his thoughts about her got more and more odd and obsessive, in a very unhealthy way. And yes, it felt like he definitely took advantage of her, as well as his wife. Plus I thought it was awful that he left his young son alone in the apartment while he went off to the studio.

This book is really getting under my skin!


message 6: by Marc (last edited Jul 04, 2016 11:23AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2824 comments Mod
It really does feel like a different book in many ways. Yeung-hye is still an object, but now she's one of desire and aesthetic appreciation.

It was at this point in the book that the question of mental health really came up for me. For the most part, Yeong-hye doesn't reject the brother-in-law's advances (at least, once not everyone's bodies have been painted with flowers). If you view her as mentally sound, then the sex and art are consensual. If you view her as mentally ill, then this section becomes a tale of rape or sexual abuse.

What do you think the author expects the reader to make of Yeong-hye's mental health? And how did your view of this influence your reading?

Also curious what other readers made of the fixation on the Mongolian birthmark.

The more the body resembles a plant, the more comfortable Yeung-hye seems. Thoughts on this?


Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
Initially, I really wanted to like the brother-in-law and his perception of Yeong-hye. He doesn't approve of her husband's actions and attitude towards her and at first, he almost seems to care about her. There was also something beautiful about his idea to have a woman's body exposed to the light with flowers painted all over it. However, as it became clear that she still wan't fully stable, and that his vision could only be fulfilled by using her body, things did get creepy. I thought including J's reactions was a nice touch. At first, he seems intrigued and excited too, but once he sees where things are headed, he becomes disgusted and doesn't want to take part. Once J refused to have sex with Yeong-hye, her brother-in-law really should have stepped back and stopped. He seems to have a skewed view towards control and participation. With both Yeong-hye and his wife, he hears crying after sex but isn't sure whether that's because of pain or passion and he never tries to find out. I'm definitely curious to see what her sister thinks of all this!


Dianne | 224 comments Caroline wrote: "Initially, I really wanted to like the brother-in-law and his perception of Yeong-hye. He doesn't approve of her husband's actions and attitude towards her and at first, he almost seems to care abo..."

I totally agree with your view that J represented what a 'normal' person might have done in this situation (that is, an adventurous, artistic, and explorative 'normal' person). That is, no one in their right mind would have taken it to the level that the brother-in-law did. And putting aside the question of whether a mentally ill person is capable of consent, and if so at what point that might be possible, the brother-in-law certainly knew enough to realize his actions were wrong, and I think this was evident in his utter shame when discovered by his wife and complete absence in the remainder of the book.


Julie (readerjules) | 197 comments Dianne wrote: "I just finished this section. My one word opinion is : creepy..."

Exactly my opinion of part 2 when I read this book a few months ago. In fact, I had a hard time thinking anything about it other than "creepy" because I couldn't get past that aspect of it.


message 10: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2824 comments Mod
This book kind of throws into question what the hell a "normal" person is. Would you describe any of these characters as "normal"?

Interesting, that Yeong-hye's dreams cause her to stop eating meat and the brother-in-law's dreams cause him to pursue this vision for his art. Are they mirrored in a sense--Yeong-hye's revulsion followed by the brother-in-law's desire? Do they each lose control or venture too far?

Like many of you, I first liked the brother-in-law, but Kang does a fantastic job of slowly turning him into an obsessive creep. He starts out seemingly obsessed with artistic integrity and relatively respectful of Yeong-hye, and then slips into a kind of fetishizing lecher.


Dianne | 224 comments Marc wrote: "This book kind of throws into question what the hell a "normal" person is. Would you describe any of these characters as "normal"?

Interesting, that Yeong-hye's dreams cause her to stop eating mea..."


good point Marc, 'normal' is a low bar here. Flower painting on naked people, ok..... *maybe* normal? Or at least behavior not worthy of institutional or jail time? Raping a mentally ill crazy person? NOT so normal. Criminal.

I thought it was interesting that the BIL initially took no notice of yeong-hye. Once his obsession was triggered, however, he basically flushed his life down the toilet for it.


Molly (mollyrotondo) | 30 comments I found it interesting that we hear from two men in Yeong-hye's life who want to control in two different ways. Her husband wanted her to remain a quiet, boring, subservient wife, and her brother-in-law wanted to use her body for his art and obsessive sexual desire. And after reading what the men want, the subject of mental illness gets brought up twice. I wonder if the same scenario will play out in the last section one when hear from a woman or if Yeong-hye will be more respected.


Portia Excellent question, Molly. I'm looking forward to reading your conclusion once you've finished. I have done and am curious to see how our conclusions compare :)


Veronique Obsession and control seem to be key. Funny isn't it how a couple seems to be fine from the outside, only to reveal that they are not. The way the brother-in-law undervalues his wife and child is horrible. Such low expectations for marriage, and selfishness - why even get married? Picking someone because there is nothing better, on a whim - that is creepy to me. And the husband's reaction of washing his hands of his wife is disgusting, although I guess she is better without him.

I also agree that BIL is using Yeong-hye and sees her only through his distorted lenses, not the real woman - although he does pick on some real clues, such as her dealing with so much Inside that there is nothing left for the Outside. Or that she is attacking her own body as if it were a piece of meat. I think that is why she likes the flower paintings - they make her less meat and more vegetal.

Having said this, he of course goes too far and looses himself in his obsession, and uses/abuses J and Yeong-hye. His behaviour is not 'normal' and so I wonder if he is also suffering a mental breakdown. Is the author using this character to comment on the role of men this time by choosing one who doesn't conform to the so-called image of masculinity (being an artist and relying on his wife financially) and yet still uses a woman as an object.

Hunger, whether for food or sex - this is primal (shelter, food, reproduction). The author is bringing her characters back to a primal stage somehow, peeling away all the layers of civilisation. The dreams seem to reflect this. As for the faces Yeong-hye sees - are those portrayals of herself? And the way she feels the root of her ill is in her stomach - isn't that attacking her core but also maternity?

Gosh - so much in these few pages!


message 15: by Luella (last edited May 22, 2017 09:50PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Luella | 40 comments Mod
Veronique wrote: "Obsession and control seem to be key. Funny isn't it how a couple seems to be fine from the outside, only to reveal that they are not. The way the brother-in-law undervalues his wife and child is h..."

Again as pointed out before "And the way she feels the root of her ill is in her stomach - isn't that attacking her core but also maternity?"

I wonder if Yeong-hye's break down was related to the whole baby thing. In the brother-in-law's marriage he basically comes out and says at this point he and his wife are business partners and only the kid is their tie to each other.

Yeong-hye's sister (his wife) calls about taking care of the kid and he can't be bothered to do so, so she concedes but then when he says he's walking out on the kid she drops everything to be home.

It's like the moment he started acting on his desires his own child went into the background and that's when things just unravel because the one thing that was keeping things going now doesn't matter anymore.

I did think the whole description of her as a plant was really interesting and I will be curious to see what happens in the next section.

All in all I did think his obsession was creepy but I'm also curious if there is something kind of tie there. When she stops having the dreams. He had one of his own.


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