Book Review: The Vegetarian (Grim and Uncomfortable Post Modernism)


Short listed for the Man Booker, The Vegetarian is post-modern. In short, that means it’s painful to read, uncomfortable to contemplate, and there’s no clear resolution beyond a sense that the world is shit. It is my first experience reading anything Post Modern, so I went into it blindly, and for once was really grateful that I’d paid $11.99 for less than 200 pages. I have read that the story is allegorical of the history of South Korea, and it may well be, but I am not a scholar of said history so that aspect escaped me.

I initially read some quotes that suggested that it was a strongly feminist work, in that a woman stops eating meat and it is symbolic of her claiming her own body and life for herself in a world where there is no such thing as a woman having full autonomy. Yet, as the book progresses, my sense is that it is a bleak tale about how no woman, no matter what, can escape objectification by men, women and society. Her body, emaciated and unhealthy, still stirs men to want sex with her—not out of any sense of her as a person (and unlinked to any desire on her part), but I think out of both a desire to remind that she cannot have autonomy and because she has now become exotic in her rebellion—still an object as long as she draws breath—but interesting to men who have not witnessed this sort of behavior before.

Separated into three parts, the final part involves the woman’s sister becoming involved in this refusal, now, to seemingly eat anything. In an eerie replay of the previous sections wherein men forced themselves upon her to penetrate her sexually, we see the sister prying her lips open to force in grains of food—the reference is unmistakable, and extremely disturbing. I can’t rate this in terms of like/dislike, but I recognize that it is well written, and it caused very strong responses in me that are important. It just wasn’t any fun. 4 stars.


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