The Vegetarian by Han King

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4/5 Stars

“Life is such a strange thing, she thinks, once she has stopped laughing. Even after certain things have happened to them, no matter how awful the experience, people still go on eating and drinking, going to the toilet and washing themselves – living, in other words.”

Wow. This is a surreal, deeply haunting and transgressive novel that fearlessly covers so many of the darkest parts of humanity.

When Yeong-hye suddenly becomes a vegetarian and then gradually stops eating food altogether, her choice has a profound effect on the people closest to her. As her strange condition worsens, she allows her mind and body to wither away into nothing, pursuing her fantasy of a plantlike existence.

If this sounds bizarre, it’s because it is. And I mean that in the best way.

It slowly becomes clear that Yeong-hye’s rebellion and metamorphosis may be reactions to repressed traumas and possibly even a deep, inescapable depression. Many of us struggle to maintain a facade in spite of deep-seated melancholy or ennui, but for Yeong-hye, the slender thread that has kept her tethered to everyday life simply can no longer hold. As her estrangement from humanity deepens, her loved ones are irreversibly changed.

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