The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian

A Novel

Book - 2015
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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 a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.
Publisher: London :, Portobello Books,, 2015
ISBN: 9781846276033
Branch Call Number: FICTION HAN
Characteristics: 183 pages ; 20 cm
Additional Contributors: Smith, Deborah
Alternative Title: Chaesikjuuija. English
Staff picks


From Library Staff

A woman’s sudden decision to become a vegetarian catalyzes the action in this dark tale of mental illness, the culture of shame, and intra-family violence. Han’s prose, translated from Korean, delivers a punchy but pensive account of lived trauma: that of our bodies as they transform themselves a... Read More »

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ArapahoeJohanna Jul 24, 2018

Haunting and poetic, this Korean psychological thriller builds on themes of isolation, violence, and control to construct a compelling story in three parts. This book is not for the faint of heart; the author delves deep into people's reactions to one woman's decision to take control over one small aspect of her life. The more they push against her, the deeper she pulls into her convictions and her own mind.

May 04, 2018

Very well written quiet domestic psychological drama.

Mar 11, 2018

The Vegetarian is a dark, yet beautifully written book about a woman's decline into mental illness.

You feel such pity for its protagonist, seeing how she simply withdraws from life. You hope the best for her, yet are left feeling helpless as she sinks deeper into despair.

CRRL_MegRaymond Feb 26, 2018

Bloody nightmares convince Yeong-hye to give up meat. This act has repercussions for the entire extended family.

Feb 09, 2018

I thought the nuances of Book One were well done.
I felt interface of the brother-in-law's artistic drive and his life was too artificial. It lacked the reality of either perversion or artistic drive. If it was the combination that created a uniqueness, then it wan't convincing.
The third book almost returned to the quality of Book One. The character of the shop owner caring for her mentally disturbed sister in the mentally disturbed medical environment was, well disturbing, and well done.

Dec 29, 2017

Very odd book. Okay read but not recommended

Nov 11, 2017

This is the first of hopefully more translated works of Korean author Han Kang. It is a disquieting work that traces how one person's change can affect others in a family. The publisher's blurb describes the setup situation quite well, but doesn't, of course, give many hints of the superbly understated narrative flow and the following impacts. Translator's often play the key role in how a novel originally in a foreign language comes across. It is a delicate task in that some Korean terms do not translate well. I assume the translator bases many decisions on how they perceive the writer's intent and makes decisions based on that perception. The translation here by Deborah Smith is hopefully accurate in that the writing is often terse, yet when you put the sentences together a mood, an interior atmosphere, comes successfully across. Also there is a rawness to some scenes that makes them more deeply felt by the reader. The three sections of the novel are from the perspectives of the husband of the vegetarian, the brother-in-law, and the sister. I'll leave it to the reader to decide what negative degree all three were affected by the vegetarian. I do feel that there are some things I don't quite get that the author intended. The book did raise some self examination as to my views on women and femininity, yet I'm still haunted about what else I should have metaphorically tuned in on. I'm putting it on my To Read Again stack for reconsideration a year or so down the road. For me it was time well spent, it challenged my perspectives as a very good novel should, and I look forward to more of Kang's work appearing in English translation.

Aug 24, 2017

Provocative and captivating. Weird book but I couldn't seem to put it down.

Aug 19, 2017

Um... Have you ever read a book that just left you feeling like you just didn't get it... that you must be less intelligent than you thought? Yes. This one.

ArapahoeTina Jul 31, 2017

A strangely beautiful book that explores taboos and social rebellion. Quiet yet powerful and filled with violence and eroticism, this book isn't for everyone. If you're looking for a unique read unlike anything you've seen before, this may be it.

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Oct 09, 2018

roygbivinthesky thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

Mar 17, 2018

ranvapa thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over


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Mark_Daly Jan 05, 2017

Stop eating meat, and the world will devour you whole.


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