The Vegetarian

Forgoing the Flesh

This month, we read Han King’s The Vegetarian! This Man Booker Prize-winner, originally written in Korean (translated by Deborah Smith), appeared at first as three novellas—which makes sense. It’s a short novel with three parts focusing on three different characters and their relationship with the book’s protagonist, Yeong-hye. Part One is told from the perspective of Mr. Cheong, her dreadful husband (the only first-person point of view segment). Under his indifferent gaze, Yeong-hye becomes a vegetarian—a rather unconventional decision in South Korea. This leads her down an increasingly horrific path, including a suicide attempt, anorexia, and hospitalization. Part II shifts dramatically. Yeong-hye’s Artist Brother-in-law (primarily a video artist) is the focus as we see her mental unfolding. In addition to her vegetarianism-cum-mental instability, we discover—through the eyes of this artist—that she has a Mongolian mark (a bluish birthmark) on her posterior. His aesthetic obsession with Yeong-hye leads to infidelity: she becomes his art project. In Part III, Yeong-hye’s sister, In-hye, is central. Yeong-hye is institutionalized and doing poorly, and In-hye’s marriage is destroyed. This might be the most contemplative portion of the novel.

Jennifer: Well, there’s a lot here and we can’t cover it all. I’ve seen this described as allegorical. I’ve seen great comparisons with Kafka’s Metamorphosis and The Hunger Artist, which is a short story I really love. I don’t want to dissect it too much—mostly because I’m not entirely sure what it all means! So what do you make of it, and did you like it?

Lara: Before I respond, great call on meeting up for Korean food for dinner. This Bulgogi (thinly sliced BBQ pork marinated in House Special Sauce) is masissneun (delicious)!

But back to your question . . . I really liked this book.

Jennifer: I did too. I confess that I’m persistently perplexed by the role of the translator. I really want to know who is responsible for all the pretty sentences. But let’s go exclusively with Han King, an already acclaimed author.

Lara: It’s very dark and disturbing and paints a compelling picture of an oppressed Korean woman struggling to have control, and the downward spiral it takes when her mental health collapses. She’s been under the thumb of a man her whole life. First, her violent father; and then, her violent husband. Brutal nightmares haunt her, leading her to become a vegetarian. While The Vegetarian is about Yeong-hye, we never get to hear the story from her perspective. What did you think about this?

Jennifer: I think it worked. She’s mentally unhinged—not because she refuses to eat meat. Rather, she seems revolted by her own carnality, her own meatiness (I’m using that terminology; I don’t think the book uses meatiness). There are dream sequences from her perspective, but they’re brief. As her sister tells her, “You’re actually insane.”

There are some brave books that attempt to write from the point of view of the “insane,” but I’m glad this wasn’t one of them. I like the critique I think this novel is ultimately making—which is that all of us are, at times, one step away from madness. In-hye, the most “normal” one, contemplates a time in which she almost lost it—and left her child:

“She can’t explain, not even to herself, how easy it had been to make the decision to abandon her child. . . The truth of the matter was something she simply felt, horribly clearly. If her husband and Yeong-hye hadn’t smashed through all boundaries, if everything hadn’t splintered apart, then perhaps she was the one who would have broken down . . .”

I think this is one major, major theme in the book: we are all this close to insanity. What do you think?

Lara: I don’t know if we are all “this close to insanity,” but I think we are all capable of breaking. That break, or breakdown, could be an actual mental breakdown or a dramatic choice outside or our usual character that leads to disastrous, life-altering outcomes.

Jennifer: I think the other big theme—I think, I’m not really sure how to analyze this book!—has to do with loathing of one’s own humanity, one’s own meatiness. One’s own carnality?

The artist notes this revulsion in her:

“This was the body of a beautiful young woman, conventionally an object of desire, and yet it was a body from which all desire had been eliminated. But this was nothing so crass as carnal desire, not for her—rather, or so it seemed, what she renounced was the very life that her body represented.”

Do you think this is behind her vegetarianism?

Lara: I think what is behind her vegetarianism is a need for control. She lives in a very male- and family-dominated culture and she has no voice in it. Taking control of what she puts into her body is one way to achieve that control. Her unstable mental health may have been aided by this choice or not. They could be mutually exclusive components of her person.

Jennifer: Her increasing mental illness comes to fruition (no pun intended) in her abstention from all food and her declaration that she’s a tree. She gives up her humanity. Meat—flesh—revolts her. How then do we make sense of her sexuality, another kind of carnality?

Lara: I think her attempts at transformation are designed to remove her sexuality. I don’t think she wants to be perceived as a sexual being. I don’t know if that’s due, in part, to the fact that her father physically abused her and then her husband raped her, but I don’t think she wanted attention from men. Or really anyone. That despite the fact she often removed her clothes and presented herself to the sun. Her husband saw that as an act of sexuality, or perhaps sexual defiance, and I think she was just claiming control over her own body.

Jennifer: I think I agree. The sex was non-sexual (for her). And it’s very complicated because she is, of course, having sex with someone. An artist. Her brother-in-law. This artist is essentially having two kinds of experiences (I’m BSing a little here): an aesthetic/artistic experience and a carnal/sexual one. I think Yeong-hye is, in her illness, absorbed in the aesthetics. This is his project:

“First he swept up the hair that was falling over her shoulders, and then, starting with the nape of her neck, he began to paint. Half-open buds, red and orange, bloomed splendidly on her shoulders and back, and slender stems twined down her side. When he reached the hump of her right buttock he painted an orange flower in full bloom, with a tick, vivid yellow pistil protruding from its center. He left the left buttock, the one with the Mongolian mark, undecorated. Instead, he used a large brush to cover the area around the bluish mark with a wash of light green, fainter than the mark itself, so that the latter stood out like the pale shadow of a flower.”

On her front, he continues with his garden:

“This time he painted huge clusters of flowers in yellow and white, covering the skin from her collarbone to her breasts. If the flowers on her back were the flowers of the night, these were the brilliant flowers of the day. Orange day lilies bloomed on her concave stomach, and golden petals were scattered pell-mell over her thighs.”

This is pretty amazing imagery. And I think there’s something going on here with the transformation of human to artistic object, which is—here—portrayed as flowers.

So what was your favorite part and why? Is that fair to ask?

Lara: It is amazing imagery!

I think the writing was my favorite part.

Parts shocked and appalled me: for example, everyone’s aversion to Yeong-hye’s choice to be a vegetarian as seen when Yeong-hye’s father tries to force feed her meat:

“Having thrown down the chopsticks, he now picked up a piece of pork with his fingers and approached my wife. She was hesitantly backing away when her brother seized her and sate her down… My father-in-law mashed the pork to a pulp on my wife’s lips as she struggled in agony. Though he parted her lips with his strong fingers, he could do nothing about her clenched teeth. Eventually he flew into a passion again, and struck her in the face once more.”

Parts saddened me, like when In-hye realizes that her own fate is sealed, but Yeong-hye achieves freedom in madness:

“The feeling that she [In-hye] had never really lived in this world caught her by surprise. It was a fact. She had never lived. Even as a child, as far back as she could remember, she had never done nothing but endure. She had believed in her own inherent goodness, her humanity, and lived accordingly, never causing anyone harm. Her devotion to doing things the right way had been unflagging, all her success had depended on it, and she would have gone on like that indefinitely. She didn’t understand why, but faced with those decaying buildings and straggling grasses, she was nothing but a child who had never lived.”

So there’s not really a happy ending to this book. What makes it worth reading?

Jennifer: For me, it might’ve been the aesthetics, the artist’s obsessing. I also found it interesting philosophically. Despite her forsaking of meat and her desire to be removed from corporeal concerns, she is unable to escape her humanity. Despite her distaste for meat, she is often described in animal-terms!

“The smell of her body filled the room, a sour, tangy smell with notes of sweetness, bitterness, and a rank animal musk.”

And near the very end, there is this image of vegetation—so clever!

“The trees by the side of the road are blazing, green fire undulating like the rippling flanks of a massive animal, wild and savage.”

Before we move on, I’d draw attention to this CRAZY-DIFFICULT-TO-ARTICULATE play on ideas: the loathing of the flesh, the transformation into art, the inescapable meatiness of humanity. Consider some passages:

The artist ponders sex with her:

“Would their bodies look like overlapping petals . . .? Would they seem like one body, a hybrid of plant, animal and human?”

No. They are still flesh and blood, and his art destroys his marriage:

“She [In-hye] recalls the sight of those two naked bodies, twined together like jungle creepers. Of course, it had shocked her at the time, and yet oddly enough, the more time went by the less she thought of it as something sexual. Covered with flowers and leaves and twisting green stems, those bodies were so altered it was as though they no longer belonged to human beings. The writhing movements of those bodies made it seem as though they were trying to shuck off the human.”

I love this phrase: shuck off the human.

Maybe both the artist and Yeong-hye are trying, and failing, to shuck off humanity. The artist still messes up his life, and Yeong-hye will die of starvation. Her sister walks away, knowing it could’ve just as easily been her who lost her mind.

Lara: Maybe so. What I hope we have captured here is, that despite the grittiness of this story, it’s worth reading and contemplating. Kang’s writing makes the discomfort worth your time.

Next Up!

Join is in June for Margaret Atwood’s dystopian drama, The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s getting a new burst of popularity with the Hulu series and a new special Audible edition narrated by Claire Danes.

Until then… happy reading, Snotties!

_______________________________________________________________________

Can’t get enough of Snotty Literati? Follow us on Facebook!

Want to read more from Jennifer? Check her out at www.jenniferspiegel.com 

Want to see what Lara is up to? Stay right here at www.onelitchick.com

Leave A Comment

  • pussey video trailers
  • father daughter arab sex video
  • laos girls xxx
  • mature young boy fitsh movies
  • free amateur video your
  • moms soccer sex videos
  • best free pics of japanies
  • girls next door fuck
  • chanelle hayes glamour pics
  • Teens i thong panties
  • free xxx orgy
  • mom blackmailed by son for sex
  • mature women galleries naked
  • girl teen tube
  • seat belt projectile teen video england
  • watch movie the deep throat
  • ebony girls with hairy pussy pictures
  • sexy vietnamese girls
  • gaging black teens
  • very young filipina girls
  • beach sex pussy
  • petite fleur tango composer
  • big tits striptease tube videos
  • video free nude teen
  • sexy ass lesbian anal licking
  • free anal download xxx
  • Raylene richards lesbian video
  • unusual free pics
  • fuck guava pussy
  • Iran sex fuck
  • asian sin city cheri d
  • the hottest young teen in
  • hardcore fantasy sex stories
  • free videos tna
  • xxx mature old mom
  • girls with small butt
  • lesbian sex wrestle i
  • monologues for auditions for teen girls
  • free naked pictures of couples fucking
  • mom young son fuck
  • teen girl with ncie ass
  • hot spanish girls get butt fucked
  • bigg butt
  • huge black aerolos movies
  • young girls in tiny skanky outfits
  • woman with small tits videos
  • free oral sex vid
  • teen home made sex
  • granny bitch pics
  • free hairy mature pussy thumbnails
  • horny and lovin it young girls
  • sexy mature fuck
  • First time fucking pussy
  • Hot nude hunk
  • cute teen posing galleries
  • busty girl uniform sex
  • black fuck tubes
  • ebony squirting lesbians
  • cowgirls leather
  • anal sex desensitizing cream
  • h cup boobs picture
  • xxx free teen thumbnail galleries
  • Kate winslet the reader sex scene video
  • How to prolong masturbation
  • free pics black booty
  • guy gets blowjob at party
  • lesgian mature movies
  • japanese naked women strippers
  • free amateur lesbians orgy movies
  • women enjoying orgasm during sex
  • black mama butt
  • penny flame vids
  • huge dick slamming pussy
  • cartoon movie archive
  • bysex group gang bang
  • wifey fuck hog
  • cheerleader teen girls
  • glamour of sweden girls
  • sofia escorts sex massage girls
  • xxx tube sex teen
  • b cup size boobs pics
  • black girl has orgasm video
  • ebony home made
  • chubby young naked nude babes
  • mexican high school girls sexy
  • Halle berry pictures nude
  • mature nylons videos
  • free teen pissing videos
  • free gushing pussy downloads
  • Best lesbian sex positions
  • squirting asian lesbian
  • old men sex movies
  • teen russian lesbian
  • throat young powered by vbulletin
  • real forbiden young xxx
  • Ramba teen sex
  • full video teresa hien
  • food pussy insertions
  • video of man fingering himself
  • Hannah harper interracial
  • home made wife videoes
  • amateur female sex videos
  • free shitting girl movies
  • true home sex video
  • free interracial glory hole movies
  • fee hentie movies
  • Girl indian sex
  • Pakistani big tits
  • big nipples sex
  • sex hentai girls
  • south indian couples having sex
  • mtv real world girls nude pics
  • long dick fucks wife mother
  • young boys mature mom
  • ebony teen fucks white guys
  • Sexy laker girls
  • pics girls young legal hardcore
  • pictures of black roses
  • sexy facebook girls myspace sluts
  • tricked into anal sex wife
  • amateur sex video gallerie
  • girls to orgasm
  • black unicorn sex
  • girls orgasm video trailers
  • red tube college sex party
  • free young black whores
  • ass anal hd movies updated
  • latino teen fuck
  • hot girls ride cock after party
  • babe get naked video
  • men fuck movies free
  • sexy young girls who love cum
  • men having sex in the butt
  • hardcore college pussy
  • littele girl sex
  • horny young lesbo girls
  • great tits sex
  • free candy ass fuck movies
  • petite asian female teen
  • free pics girls old men
  • juliana young playboy pics
  • tits webcam boobs
  • tiny hott young teen vids
  • young hardcore pussy
  • big boobs young
  • amateur girl learns to suck cock
  • amateur pussy lips
  • girls laying naked
  • homemade facial video
  • sexy women swimming naked
  • amateur crossdressers for sex
  • babysitter xxx married fuck
  • xvideos mega boobs
  • ipod free videos forum
  • wives who suck dick
  • naked wives mastubat
  • local asian sex
  • free internal pussy creampie movies
  • jap girls sex
  • sandra bullock butt pics proposal
  • hairy big nipples girls
  • Teen blonde dancing
  • Couple having sex on the beach
  • gropedgirls in japan
  • young girl sucking dick
  • sexy blonde mexicans
  • japanese actresses sex video
  • hardcore and pictures
  • shemales fuck shemales videos
  • black lactating nipples
  • wifes first black cum
  • world champion xxx deep throat
  • young teen bikini camel toe pictures
  • videos of hot teenage girls striping
  • butt inplant videos
  • Incest sex tapes
  • black belts karate video
  • libby true teen babe pics
  • black and white drawings sexy women
  • marry younger wife bad
  • quito sex videos
  • Mongolian girls sex
  • free amateur interracial cuckhold movies
  • petite milf galleries
  • guide to anal sex for women
  • japanese teen shemales nudes
  • petite skinny teen
  • nudity mature girls
  • young native nude girls
  • mom teaches daughter sex videos
  • video shaving pussy ass
  • bang bros interracial videos
  • kiie xxx
  • sexy oiled girls
  • amateur anal attempts torrent
  • male blowjob video
  • oral olymics streaming videos
  • girl massaging her ass
  • young naked teen boy videos
  • sleeping party girls sex pictures
  • nun sex lesbian
  • Vidio sex kamasutra
  • white naked girls big thighs
  • teen cumshots slutload
  • watch free online transexuals fucking girls
  • jap lesbian
  • haley williams naked picture
  • mature teen video
  • free shemale movies vids
  • naked girles videos
  • Raw ass fucking
  • girls seduced by lesbians
  • your amateur pron video
  • New sex positions videos
  • xxx anal free video
  • hardcore lesbian dvd
  • teen under having sex
  • threesome videos homemade
  • Big ass lesbien
  • her first oral sex tube
  • sex ed class rainbow party
  • pics of young naked girls
  • amuater teen videos
  • funny dirty sex pics
  • Sexy little pussy
  • Teen tits in bras
  • big black cocks fucking tiny teens
  • thick juicy pussy lips
  • Small tits images
  • all naked young boy pics
  • Winx club sex pics
  • Naked girls cumming
  • rough sex naked castings
  • sex toys uk huge butt plug
  • guys girls high school
  • big hipped white girl teen ass
  • mature femdom bdsm free galleries
  • girls taking naked pictures
  • mature moms black men
  • pregnant bride sex pics
  • metacafe naked japanese
  • old with young lesbians
  • chae young naked
  • britt and taylor lesbian handjob
  • free sex xxx hentai
  • free sexy asian
  • hot young old videos
  • watch interracial movies for free
  • hottest and blonde sexy xxx vedios
  • amateur romantic sex
  • egyptian girl sex
  • party hardcore japanese
  • blonde anal lesbian
  • Sexy hot blonde lesbians
  • free fuc video
  • italien teen sex pics
  • naked young ueropean girls
  • sand used in movie pitch black
  • taco mature hairy pussy
  • hot sexy girls in fights
  • fucking my bbw wife video
  • posted amateur graphy
  • ass nude black female pictures
  • Indian actress nude pics
  • petite ribbed tank
  • college girls rules cumshot anal