“Before my wife turned vegetarian, I had always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way.”
HAD this abrasive exercise in misogynic chauvinism, puppet women, mad dreams, bizarre pornography been written by a man I wager it might have found its way into the rubbish bin. Kang though is female. We are invited to think her odd kaleidoscope reflects the hidden soul of Korea, but for me it is driven by the same western, or outsider, voyeurism that was responsible for comfort stations. It is not literature, it is smut, school boy smut, the 20th century fantasy of the submissive Asian woman slaking male lusts. Technically it is fluently written/translated but the three parts have little/nothing to do with each other linked only by an inarticulate victimhood which reaches an anonymous if grisly conclusion. The vegetarian of the title is somewhat academic.
The fact that it won the Man Book International is inexplicably depressing, the more so when the short list also included the last of the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novels which surely will count as one of the punctuation points of modern writing. This can only go down as a snigger.