I’m trying to look at books the way a librarian might, in order to help get me better at thinking from a reader’s point of view. Here are the other posts in the series.
The Vegetarian is a short novel set in contemporary Korea. Yeong-hye is a housewife who, after a terrible dream, decides to become a vegetarian. Because her role is so restrictive and other people’s understanding of her humanity so limited by her circumstances, her decision–seemingly so minor–comes to have horrific effects.
Because this is a story about one’s point of view being invalidated, the story is told from other characters’ points of view, in three novelettes. The first is from her husband’s point of view; he is incredulous that she will not eat meat, and even more incredulous that she won’t start eating meat because he told her to.
The second is from her brother-in-law’s point of view as he turns her into a kind of living art object, only caring about whether she will model for his video art or not.
The third is from her sister’s point of view, as she struggles to decide whether to treat her sister as a person with a will of her own or as an inconvenient bit of living meat after everything else has been stripped for her.
The Vegetarian is one of the world’s perfect book club books; it’s short and easily readable, and it’s almost guaranteed to provoke interesting discussions. Are the events of the book fully realistic, or do they have any sort of supernatural implication? Is the book a fairy tale or not? How should the people closest to Yeong-hye have reacted? Who was at fault? Readers’ emotional reactions will also vary greatly; I found the book very Kafkaesque and ironically funny at times (as I do with Kafka). Other readers have said they found the book tragic and moving.
I recommend this book for adults and older teens; there is no strong language, but shocking situations, including graphic sex and violence, abound. Readers who are interested in modern-day fairy tales will also find this of great interest; the story reads like a retelling of an old fairy tale that one hasn’t happened to have read yet. The book should also be of interest to readers who enjoy weird fiction such as Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation. I read this in one sitting, and enjoyed it very much.
Thoughtful book recommendations – prose off the beaten path – one terrible pun per month – no questions asked. Wonderland Press Newsletter.