The Vegetarian is the 2016 Man Booker International Prize Winning novel written by Korean author Han Kang and translated by Deborah Smith. Since it was announced this spring, I have been waiting to borrow a copy from the library. It is a relatively short novel (183 pages) and I have to admit that it is not one that I would recommend. It is a sad portrayal of a family impacted by mental illness with a resounding lack of optimism or hope.
The story is broken down into 3 parts with the first section dealing with a couple who struggle with their marriage as a wife becomes vegetarian as the result of a dream. The husband does not understand and struggles with her choice. He involves his wife’s family who cannot fathom her choice try to force her to consume meat as she continues to lose weight.
The reader comes to understand more details of her illness and her connection to plants in the second part of the novel. Through a shocking art project with her brother in law the reader sees her progressing illness. I have to be honest that as I was reading this middle part of the book, I was wishing that I had done a little research about what the novel was about before borrowing it. It seemed surreal as the woman fell deeper into her illness and connections are broken with family.
The final section deals with two sisters, one trying to save the other. It seems remeniscient of Miriam Toews novel All My Puny Sorrows which I also struggled to appreciate. It too was an award winner and it too was dark and full of sadness and despair.
I can’t say that I would recommend this novel. It is unique, it is an easy flowing read but it is not my kind of book. I struggle with some writing about mental illness – it seems that some novels are meant to shock the reader (such as Furiously Happy which I could not even finish as it was truly insulting to individuals with mental illness and seemed too obnoxious for me to finish) and think that individuals and families dealing with mental illness would struggle with this novel. The reviewers of this prize must have been looking for something unique as this would not be my pick for the prize.