The Vegetarian by Hang Kang

It’s not every day that I encounter a novel that appeals to me through shared experiences. I was browsing for book awards when I first encountered this novel.

It had won the 2016 man booker prize, and it was the title, not the picture or the award that really caught my eye.

I don’t mean to come off a snob when I say that. Eurgh! Vegetarians.

Neither do I mean –

Eww! Genre fiction.

In fact, my partner is a vegetarian – was a vegan-which I converted. Not because I thought veganism is wrong, but rather due to her lack of desire to track her nutrition.It wasn’t uncommon for her to cop some level of abuse. There seemed to be a proportion of the human population incapable of understanding life without meat. So I already had an idea of what to expect.

I debated it a little, but I interest was peaked.

The vegetarian follows the story of an unremarkable home-maker, Yeong-hye. That is of course until she has a nightmare, and the blood-soaked images haunt her every thought.

So one day, she renounced all meat – threw it all out.

The Vegetarian is Kang’s second novel to be translated into English and was translated by Deborah Smith in 2015. Since becoming the recipient of the Man Booker prize, it has sold over 462,000 copies and is considered a modern masterpiece of Korean translated literature.

Now onto the review, this novel is difficult. The concepts are hard and the pacing is completely broken.

It’s a short little novella, only 160 pages long. It is written in three parts, each in a separate perspective and from a different point of time from the other.

This makes the prose rather disjointed. Being as short of a read as it is, you barely adapt to one before you’re thrown into the other.

But that is exactly the point.

“I was convinced that there was more going on here than a simple case of vegetarianism.”

It’s a deliberate literary rhetoric that puts you in the mind of the vegetarian. It’s almost like vegetarianism is a fad, or if not – completely alien. It’s novel how he utilises this concept to parallel how people react to those different from themselves.

Thus, the vegetarian becomes isolated, and is referred to as self-destructive, but it isn’t the diet that is destructive, but rather the lack of conformity to society.

Her husband never cared much about her individuality. Her husband, from the beginning, he married her out of convenience. There was no love, instead, there was this partnership. In a very self-centred manner he’d support her, only so she could support him. He didn’t care for her individuality, only for himself. It was always about why there was no meat, why he couldn’t have sex. From the beginning, she needed someone that could support her. Instead, the novel traces her loneliness from vegetarian into depression.

That isn’t to say that the characters don’t have their moments.

Ïf you intend to follow a vegetarian diet you should sit down anddraw up a proper and well-balanced meal plan.

But rather, it’s a concern of where their motivation and concerns originate.

Thus, The Vegetarian comes across as a brutal reminder of the culpability of society – the important role we play in accepting people for who they are.

So after reading this novel, please do look after those around you. It left me feeling a little empty inside.

So please, take care of those around you.

Explore your fiction.

And love your reality.




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