After relishing Canadian writer Medeleine Thien's Do Not Say We Have Nothing, a novel shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2016 that deals heavily with the loss of identity in China's darkest decades of political unrest, I picked up Han Kang's The Vegetarian, also shortlisted for and won the same prize in earnest anticipation. Compared to Thien's sincere and moving prose, Kang shows her literary excellence in a shockingly different way. The Vegetarian presents an eerily bizarre and mystifying story about a woman letting herself slip into madness that leaves more questions than to give any promising answers. It is a book that requires the reader to spend some time mulling over its hidden messages after the read.
The Vegetarian is divided into three different acts, each sending out an entirely different vibe and pulling the story into all directions. It feels like reading three individual stories written in distinctive genres and somehow bearing the same characters within. Act I - The Vegetarian is a psychological horror that sets the background for the story. Narrated from a man's perspective in first person, Kang's protagonist Yeong-Hye is a taciturn woman who firmly decides to turn vegetarian after suffering from a violent and inscrutable dream. Everything about meat repulses her to the bones and despite her rather timid personality, she rebels resolutely against people in her life - her hot-tempered and extremely cruel father, her distasteful husband and his boss and colleagues who display repugnance at her new-found lifestyle. Almost everything is a metaphor and up for the reader to decide what it truely stands for. But one thing is very clear: it isn't really about South Korean people's attitudes towards vegetarianism/veganism per se; instead, it goes way deeper than that. To me, it lambastes the conventional archetypes of the patriarchy still deeply ingrained in today's South Korean society. During her marriage with her husband, Yeong-Hye does not have a job and does not seem to have many friends. The mere purpose of her existence seems to tend to her husband's needs. What's more, as revealed more so in Act III, her father is a cruel figure who not only once brutally murdered a disobedient dog but also threw corporal punishment at his younger daughter, however severe we do not know. Thus, all these years of either witnessing or actually suffering from violence have transferred themselves surreptitiously into her subconsciousness. She would then crave for a vegetal existence, rejecting meat that symbolises human violence on one end and embracing nudity and the nature that symbolise purity and innocence on the other.
© 本文版权归作者 海馬