Book Review: The Vegetarian

by Han Kang

An alternative title to this provocative novel could have been ‘Husbands Behaving Badly’. Indeed, the men in this South Korean story seem to be a thoroughly contemptible, self-serving bunch of wimps who spend their lives blaming their wives for their own deficiencies. The womenfolk would almost certainly have been more contented had they remained single.

The Vegetarian is concerned with obsession, desire, fear, disintegration of family and madness. The characters’ internal worlds are vivid, violent and confusing, and their thoughts and dreams a mystery even (perhaps especially) to themselves.

At a mere 160 pages long, Han Kang’s less than meaty volume is a bizarre tale of shame and rebellion. It is also a highly intriguing book which, unsurprisingly, won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016.