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Summary

An irresistibly weird and sensuous story of betrayals, transformations and social taboos. 

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 'plantlike' 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.

©2007 Han Kang. English translation copyright © Deborah Smith 2015 (P)2016 Random House Audio

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    5 out of 5 stars

An amazing story, very special. Dire narration.

I loved this title however the narration of Janet Song seemed to be mechanistic at best, computer based at worst. Had it not been for the recommendation of the book by a Korean colleague I am not sure I would have persevered. Do give the book a go, but perhaps read it, or find alternative narrators.

3 people found this helpful

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Odd eccentric story

The narration was poor, it felt forced. The story was unusual, but the writing style was repetitive, in idea and dialogue. It was a disturbing tale of hysteria, giving the protagonist a voiceless voice.

2 people found this helpful

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Strange

I think that this is probably a very good book but I think much of it could have been lost in translation, it was very strange and confusing, a bit like someone's weird dream, I'm sure in Korean read by a Korean it may have held much more meaning, I may be wrong, but it wasn't for me

1 person found this helpful

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Visceral, violent, vivid

If this is a typical example of the ingenuity and artistry of South Korean literature then I must explore more.

Arrestingly evocative - a book I will not forget easily, and one I will recommend.

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Glad I finished it

Disturbing but eye-opening novel by a talented author. Difficult to finish but stick with it.