Han Kang, 2007
Pros: Critics have compared Kang’s work to Kafka, and the similarities seem deserved: taut prose, a spiraling journey into madness, and a bent towards the allegorical (okay, more than a bent) form the backbone of this can’t-put-it-down book. Told in three parts, the narrative circles via outside perspectives around the main character’s mysterious and sudden decision to become a vegetarian in a culture where forgoing meat is not an option; as such, the narrator’s choice becomes a matter of public and familial crisis, and the story explores the horrifying consequences of her refusal to give in and return to carnivorous habits. Kang’s decision to deprive the protagonist of a narrative voice is one of the smartest in a series of good writing choices that both immerse you in the writing and remind you that the author is in complete control; this is one of the best-crafted novels I’ve ever read, and one that makes me jealous: I wish I had written it.
Cons: Allegory may be coming back into style, but as a formal decision I’ve always found large-scale metaphor to be too on-the-nose, a little too obvious; The Vegetarian may suffer from the (perfectly-executed) simplicity of its symbolism. A brush with melodrama in the third section left me feeling letdown, though I found sections 1 and 2 entirely thrilling.
The Verdict: Grab a copy, and (ironically, of course) enjoy a steak while you’re reading: this book makes you hungry, and completely satisfies.