In spite of this having been on a number of “best of 2016” lists, I walked into this book completely blind, and was fully shocked, disturbed, and yet driven by it. It’s a really tough read, not just psychologically, but because it’s brutally graphic in a way that doesn’t exactly require a warning, but is unusual for a Western reader used to a vaseline’d lens covering sex and violence.
I really loved this, and it continues to haunt me a little bit. I can’t imagine ever re-reading it. I would recommend it, but with the extreme cautions that I include with my glowing recommendations of things like “The Leftovers” and anything by Nabokov. It’s going to be stunning, and it’s going to inspire despair. It’s going to be a challenge to empathize, but mostly because no one wants to imagine themselves going down a road like this.
I’m being intentionally vague, partly because I don’t want to spoil anything, but also because the plot isn’t entirely important. The thing about “The Vegetarian” is that it’s more about mental illness, social expectations and taboos, and the repercussions when you acknowledge your basest instinct and chase it at the expense of anyone else’s feelings or needs.
Ultimately, I only give this four stars because in the end I didn’t feel anything definitive from Han Kang. I didn’t need a grand finale, or a complete wrap-up, but I do need to feel like there was a reason to tell this story, and when it came down to it, Kang didn’t commit to anything that felt like a conclusion. After such a compelling, dynamic, and frankly disgusting (not in a bad way?) journey, I was left a little disappointed.