It’s been ages since I read a book as fast as I read The Vegetarian by Han Kang, with its savagely beautiful cover. Fifty pages in I knew that this well-written novel, translated by Deborah Smith, would not release me until I read the final pages. The simple and direct narrative is ironically in direct contrast with the secrets that overpower the lives of its thoroughly fleshed out characters.
Although The Vegetarian is a desperately sad story, there are well-observed moments of disarming beauty, as when a mother recalls her son giddy with the thrill of making her laugh, or the loneliness of the sound of a child sucking their thumb in a silent, darkened room.
Although its story is simple enough, The Vegetarian defies straightforward categorisation. Its characters are presented as conventional people, average to the point of cliché, at least until their transformations occur. The novel is compelling, not because of the intrusion of discomfort into the characters’ routine existences, but because when it raises the question of what would we do in these circumstances, the writer’s response offers surprises for both characters and reader.