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The Vegetarian A Novel

by Han Y Kang

Adult Fiction

The Vegetarian A Novel Synopsis

Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more 'plant-like' existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision is a shocking act of subversion. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, leading her bland husband to self-justified acts of sexual sadism. His cruelties drive her towards attempted suicide and hospitalisation. She unknowingly captivates her sister's husband, a video artist. She becomes the focus of his increasingly erotic and unhinged artworks, while spiralling further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming - impossibly, ecstatically - a tree. Fraught, disturbing and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

The Vegetarian A Novel Press Reviews

'Kang has crafted a wounding, unsetling book. The fantastical imagery of plants, trees and flowers reinforce Yeong-hye's purity. The book is a journey in trying to understand her and the reactions she inspires in others. The book is a journey in trying to understand her and the reactions she inspires in others... Han Kang's greatest achievement is crafting a small table from which great things grow' -- Irish Examiner

'A startling new novel... The Vegetarian is a story about metamorphosis, rage and the desire for another sort of life. It is written in cool, still, poetic but matter-of-fact short sentences, translated luminously by Deborah Smith, who is obviously a genius' -- Deborah Levy

'This short novel is one of the most startling I have read. Han Kang is well served by Deborah Smith's subtle translation in this disturbing book' -- Independent on Sunday

'Elegantly translated into bone-spare English by Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian is a book about the failures of language and the symmetries of the physical. Yet its message should not undermine Han's achievement as a writer. Like its anti-protagonist, The Vegetarian whispers so clearly, it can be heard across the room, insistently and with devastating, quiet violence' -- New Statesman

'Enthralling... It has a surreal and spellbinding quality, especially in its passage on nature and the physical landscape, so beautiful and so magnificently impervious to the human suffering around it' -- Independent

'Sensual, provocative and violent, ripe with potent images, startling colours and disturbing questions. Sentence by sentence, The Vegetarian is an extraordinary experience' -- Guardian

'[The Vegetarian is] about a madness in which the mad woman is only the subject, never the speaker. It's a novel that illustrates the patriarchal nature of South Korea in subtle, provocative ways. And it's a beautiful book about a woman who, after having a disturbing dream, decides to become a vegetarian, and ends with her transforming into a tree' -- Chad W Post, Frankfurt Show Daily

'A haunting, hypnotic read, Han Kang's novel is a bold example of what world literature has to offer us here in Britain' -- Harper's Bazaar

'The Vegetarian is so strange and vivid it left me breathless upon finishing it. I don't think I've ever read a novel as mouth-wateringly poetic, or as drenched in hypnotic oddities, taboos and scandal. It seems to have been plucked out of the ether, ready-made to take us all by surprise' -- New Internationalist

'Unsettling... A strange and ethereal fable, rendered stranger still by the cool precision of the prose' -- Times Literary Supplement

'Mind-blowing... Han skilfully builds the story. The writing throughout is precise and spare. The Vegetarian quickly settles into a dark, menacing brilliance. Deborah Smith's quiet, underplayed translation is effective at evoking a mood of suppressed dread. For all the graphic, often choreographed description, Han Kang has mastered eloquent restraint in a work of savage beauty and unnerving physicality' -- Irish Times

'One of the most erotic literary novels of the season... The Vegetarian has been praised on both sides of the Atlantic as strange, visionary and transgressive' -- Economist

Book of the Year, New Statesman, chosen by Eimear McBride

'A transformative fable about desire frustration and individual will' Best Books of 2015, Guardian

'An irresistibly weird and sensuous story of betrayals, transformations...and social taboos. This one is not for children. But read it anyway' -- Book of the Year, New Statesman chosen by Daniel Hahn

'Han Kang's vivid and at times violent storytelling will wake up even the most jaded of literary palates' --Independent

'The Vegetarian is hypnotically strange, sad, beautiful and compelling. I liked it immensely' -- Nathan Filer, Costa Award winning author

'A truly memorable novel [with] visceral and unfaltering writing that is innately uneasy to read [...] Han Kang expertly structures the novel around the three long chapters that explore the voices around Yeong-Hye. Though the narrative is never hers, Yeong-Hye remains the focus of the novel throughout. Each chapter features dream sequences which blur the everyday and ethereal and provide the reader with rich and dynamic prose. The fact that these sequences work so well in The Vegetarian is a huge credit to the work of Deborah Smith who achieves a translation that is wonderfully readable in English whilst at the same time profoundly different to English language novels.' -- Words Shortlist blog

'Fraught, disturbing and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about shame, desire and our faltering attempts to understand others.' --Western Morning News

'You may think you know where Han's English-language debut novel is going, but you have no idea...[it is] a tale of obsession, grotesque physicality, and art... This is a horror story in its depiction of the unknowability of others - of the sudden feeling that you've never actually known someone close to you. It's also a decidedly literary story for its exploration of despair' inner unrest' and the pain of coming to understand yourself. There is much to admire in Han's novel. Its three-part structure is brilliant, gradually digging deeper and deeper into darker and darker places; the writing is spare and haunting; but perhaps most memorable is the crushing climax, a phantasmagoric yet emotionally true moment that's surely one of the year's most powerful. This is an ingenious, upsetting and unforgettable novel' - Gabe Habash, Publishers Weekly

'Paradoxically, both enlightening and incomprehensible. It is a strange book, with overtones of Kafka, and a plot that has no resolution. And yet it consumes its reader, turning the seeming banality of a woman's decision not to eat meat into a surreal psychological odyssey' -- Xenobe Purves, Litro

'The winner of the 2016 Man International Booker Prize is an unsettling, sensual and surreal novel about a dutiful wife who rebels against her stultifying marriage.' the i paper

'Intriguing' -- Charlotte Mendelson, Observer

'At once dreamy and nightmarish, a beautiful horror and easily one of the best books I've read in years' -- Lisa McInerney, Guardian

'[An] engrossing read which takes you deep into the fascinating and complex world of another culture, South Korea. The harrowing but beautifully told story of a woman who could not conform' -- Western Morning News

'A scorching novel about one woman's experience in a patriarchal society: it has a brutal eloquence' --Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9781846276033
Publication date: 05/11/2015
Publisher: Granta Books
Format: Paperback

Book Information

ISBN: 9781846276033
Publication date: 5th November 2015
Author: Han Y Kang
Publisher: Granta Books
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 192 pages
Genres: Adult Fiction,
Categories: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945), Fiction in translation,

About Han Y Kang

Han Kang was born in Gwangju, South Korea, and moved to Seoul at the age of ten. She studied Korean literature at Yonsei University. Her writing has won the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today's Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award. The Vegetarian, her first novel to be translated into English, was published by Portobello Books in 2015 and won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. She is also the author of Human Acts (Portobello, 2016) and The White Book (Portobello, forthcoming 2017). She is based in Seoul. Deborah Smith's translations from the Korean include two novels by Han Kang, The ...

More About Han Y Kang

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