I’ve kicked off my end-of-year reads with the 2016 Man Booker Prize winner, The Vegetarian by Han Kang.
At first glance, The Vegetarian reads like a typical domestic narrative about a man and his wife. Its first few pages is deceptively written in the stoic, sparse style á la some of Haruki Murakami’s slower works. Written from the husband’s perspective, he depicts their marriage life and his wife as perfectly normal; nothing seems to be out of the ordinary. Things change, however, when his wife, claiming to have “had a dream”, throws away every sliver of meat from the house and becomes a vegetarian. Although the book is titled “The Vegetarian”, she more accurately becomes a vegan, refusing to eat any and all animal products. The man and his wife’s family speculates all sorts of reasons for her changed behaviour, ranging from vegetarianism being trendy to the diet’s health benefits.
As the story continues, it becomes clear that The Vegetarian is anything but a typical narrative. As the man’s wife, Yeong-hye, begins to be given a first person narrator’s voice at irregular intervals, we realise that her reasons for not eating meat run much deeper. Through these flashes of insights, we realise that she quite literally identifies with animals; with the animal inside each one of us—the theme of nakedness becomes increasingly significant. As the narrative progresses, she morphs not only into an animalistic creature of sorts, but seems to identify ever more with plants as well, behaving like one. The themes the book explores include sex—including that between plants—, the objectification of the non-human, hybridism, animal cruelty, feminism and eco-feminism. It is a no holds barred exploration and dissolving of “natural” and accepted boundaries.
I will be reviewing this utterly fascinating book that explores the boundaries between the human and non-human so do grab a copy here if you’re interested to follow along. A supplementary read that I will be putting the text in conversation with is Jacques Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am, an address he gave about the blurred boundaries between the human and the animal. In particular, he discusses the effects of nakedness on this relationship. You can read a translated copy of Derrida’s address here.