This book has me more at sea than almost anything I’ve read in a couple of years. The book is divided into three chapters and each one focuses on a different person in Yeong-hye’s life, although Yeong-hye is never really heard as a voice throughout the vast majority of the novel.
The first chapter is in first-person, from the point of view of her husband. Yeong-hye has a dream that makes her decide suddenly to become a vegetarian, and it is a pretty gruesome repeating dream. But it pulls their already weak marriage entirely to pieces.
The second chapter is in third-person, focusing on the thoughts of Yeong-hye’s brother in law. And the final chapter is also in third-person, but focuses on the thoughts of her sister, In-hye.
I don’t want to spoil the plot more than that, but it is a baffling, challenging book that asks far more questions than it answers. Each of the three parts also has a very strong connection to dreams, first Yeong-hye’s, then her brother-in-law’s, then her sister’s.
But the question is: what are we supposed to make of these dreams? Do the dreams equate to potential madness, and if we embrace them as Yeong-hye does, do the dreams/madness mean our destruction?
The book mentions that Han Kang’s novel is about “power, obsession, and one woman’s struggle to break free from the violence both outside and within her.” I’ll give you the first two; they’re pretty clear. I don’t know where the line is between the violence and the struggle, however. It almost seems like the dream–the move to become a vegetarian–initiates the violence of her husband, her family, the doctors. Or is there more to it than that?
Can you tell that I’m struggling to hold on to anything tangible? I suspect this novel is going to stay with me for quite a while. I just don’t know how my feelings about it are going to solidify. Go read it and tell me what YOU make of it.