Some books make you so uncomfortable, they’re almost palpable. Your skin crawls as you read. You want to turn to the next page, wanting to know ‘what happens next’. But you also don’t want to know more —you’re in this weird quagmire of where the author is taking you, and feel supremely uneasy.
Good prose can do that. Because readers have this innate ability to vividly paint a picture, conjure the world the author commands; it’s an eerie feeling to read uncomfortable realities.
The Vegetarian is that cultural powerhouse. It’s a Korean book. It’s culture. It’s about women, representation, and choice; rather, the illusion of choice. Funny thing; there’s no word for vegans in Korean, and that sums up the book.
The main character does not have much of a say in the book, and that’s deliberate. A review for the book quotes Jean-Paul Sarte — “Existence precedes essence.” You exist, then create the essence of your existence. What if your essence is stripped though?
The stifling of choice, words, power to communicate, express — when someone snatches that away, what does that make you? Who are you? What do you stand for? What’s your voice?
The Vegetarian is Kafakesque, with a splash of wandering Murakami, and strong cultural undertones of women and representation.
It’s irritating, it’s annoying, it’s powerful, it’s frustrating, and when you have this concoction of emotions while reading prose; the author has succeeded. You, as a reader, have lived through that writing; and that’s good literature.
Read it. It’s rare to be so jolted reading prose, and Han Kang has done exactly that.