In her first novel to be published in English, South Korean writer Han divides a story about strange obsessions and metamorphosis into three parts, each with a distinct voice.
Yeong-hye and her husband drift through calm, unexceptional lives devoid of passion or anything that might disrupt their domestic routine until the day that Yeong-hye takes every piece of meat from the refrigerator, throws it away, and announces that she's become a vegetarian. Her decision is sudden and rigid, inexplicable to her family and a society where unconventional choices elicit distaste and concern that borders on fear. Yeong-hye tries to explain that she had a dream, a horrifying nightmare of bloody, intimate violence, and that's why she won't eat meat, but her husband and family remain perplexed and disturbed. As Yeong-hye sinks further into both nightmares and the conviction that she must transform herself into a different kind of being, her condition alters the lives of three members of her family—her husband, brother-in-law, and sister—forcing them to confront unsettling desires and the alarming possibility that even with the closest familiarity, people remain strangers. Each of these relatives claims a section of the novel, and each section is strikingly written, equally absorbing whether lush or emotionally bleak. The book insists on a reader’s attention, with an almost hypnotically serene atmosphere interrupted by surreal images and frighteningly recognizable moments of ordinary despair. Han writes convincingly of the disruptive power of longing and the choice to either embrace or deny it, using details that are nearly fantastical in their strangeness to cut to the heart of the very human experience of discovering that one is no longer content with life as it is.
An unusual and mesmerizing novel, gracefully written and deeply disturbing.