The Vegetarian by Han Kang – A Review

What a book it must be that has the power to divide a readership so radically into two distinct camps. When people aren’t revelling – albeit shyly – in the surreal violence of the senses rendered by its words and Han Kang’s pluck in writing them, they are wounded by what they perceive as bizarreness, a unidimensional cruelty to their literary limits.

Kang’s books are marked with an emotional ambivalence in a manner that is so refreshing in the sea of introspective contemporary fiction currently dominating the shelves at our favourite bookstores. This novel has no pretentious lure, claiming to have an ability to know other minds. The subject matter here is as grey as the real world and the representation and development of character-minds subject to psychological laws with underlying murmurs of inconspicuousness as in real people.

Han Kang’s pristine prose of the past had instilled in me such a sweet sentimentality that I was driven with a need to chase the same. I was surprisingly comfortable through the more “uncomfortable” imagery which probably stands as a testament to my high tolerance and even enjoyment/admiration for the atypical, abnormal, bizarre.

What lured me in was the overarching theme of the rejection of humanity (when humanity is so darned exhausting, this is a feeling you want to explore). Despite the loudness of emotions embedded in the content, the book left me with a quiet I had not experienced in a long time. Uncharacteristically, I didnt read too deep into the cultural inspiration for this book or social protests – or any underlying themes whatsoever. I read it like poetry. Very possibly, the timing was impeccable as I am confronting a disenchantment of my own with the current world and its empty convictions. The main character completes a metamorphosis from human to plant through three stages of detachment and letting go of everything that makes one human, including desire and eventually compassion.

I cant ask you to go against your emotional or sensory disposition, neither dictate or project a mood on you, so today I will not make a recommendation. But I will secretly hope you do read it, and if you dont like it, read it again.

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