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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, April 22, 2016

A journey into the extremes of the psyche - The Vegetarian

The third and final section of Han Kang's The Vegetarian is the only one from the woman's POV - though the sisgter Yeong-Hie is the eponymous character around whom all of the events of the novel circulate we get little aspect to her mind, little info about how she sees herself - we see her only from the viewpoint of others, though it's clear in each viewpoint - her husband (later ex husband), her brother-in-law (later ex-brother in law), and in this last section her older sister - that she is very disturbed, suicidal, most likely schizophrenic. Her strange behavior, which begins with her sudden repulsion at everything to do w/ meat, its look its taste its odor, which alienates her (further) from husband and family, by the 3rd section has her refusing to eat all food and somehow imaging or believing that she is a tree - to the point where stands on her hands for long period of time, imagining that her arms are roots digging into the ground for nourishment. In this third section older sister visits her in the psychiatric hospital - her lonely journey there by bus in the rain, with a long walk seemingly through tunnel to get to the main building?, is a tour de force in itself. At the hospital they've essentially given up on helping Yeong-Hie and are at the point of trying to force-feed her through a tube inserted into her nostrils. Ghastly (they do this w/ hunger-strikers in prison, I believe). Throughout this section we increasingly realize that the case is hopeless and that the young woman's mental illness has destroyed two marriages and rent apart her family (parents are now estranged from both daughters and ashamed). No question that his novel is powerful, unusual, and difficult - but also I'm really not sure I'd recommend it to most readers. It's a study in disturbance and its broad bands of destructive effect, but it seems in some ways so bizarre, so atypical, that it's not really about a social or medical problem as much as a journey into the extremes of the psyche - like a Rimbaud or Baudelaire poem in contemporary prose. Enter if you dare, or care.

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