The Vegetarian is full of powerful and graphic imagery but nothing gory, nothing overly disturbing. I wondered if something was lost in translation.
The words that come to mind when I think of this book, post-read, are minimalist and sparse. Yet the imagery is vivid, and in sharp relief. Each word has been carefully selected, each phrase carefully turned. There is a distinct lack of superfluity.
At the core of this novel is a woman who we don't really get to understand on her own terms. She is defined by her relationship with others. Her husband is quietly unsatisfied with her, though he cannot say she is a bad wife. Her sister pities her, and feels responsible for her. Her father cares little until he cares too much, refusing to understand her. There are three voices in this book, and none of them belong to Yeong-hye, as central as she is to the book.
Yeong-hye commits herself obsessively to being a vegetarian, as the result of a dream. The confusion, wrath and indignation this elicits from her family is outsized. The more she is excoriated for not conforming, the deeper she digs her heels in, turning herself inside out and driving herself insane.
But is she really insane? Or is that an identity foisted on her by those around her as way of understanding her refusal to be like everyone else? It's hard to tell in this novel. We get the sense that she has discovered something about herself and has become attuned to her own sexuality, in a way that was never revealed to her husband. An inverse relationship develops. As Yeong-hye begins to fall together, those around her who were so sure of themselves begin to doubt themselves and fall apart.