[Book Review]: The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian , Han Kang.

There is no easy way to say this. This is a complex book that dwells in the abyss that is the human mind. It toys around with emotions and is rather cold and stoic in the way it settles to narrate the tale of two sisters , Yeong – Hye and In-Hye.

Yeong- Hye leads a pretty normal life. The term normal is an understatement. If I had to trivialise a loveless marriage, emotional impotence, suppressed insecurities, passive aggression, masked intolerance, manipulative relationship, pretend smiles as a BAU normal of a life, then yes, Yeong does lead a normal life. One fine day, she decides to become a vegetarian. She rejects meat of any kind into her diet. This leaves her husband unhappy.

The choice of being a vegetarian, given the Korean context, we are led to believe that the choice is an unpopular one in the society. Yeong’s husband, Mr Cheong is left alone to fend off the snide remarks from the judgemental society. This decision adds tension to their marriage. The family meet up with Yeong’s wider family over a get together and things get worse. Her family feels ashamed of her decision to shun meat. Her dad manages to slap some sense into her.

Push comes to shove and plot details later Yeong gets committed into a mental institution. Oh boy, this is a hard book to review without giving away the plot. I shall have to adopt a different strategy to review the book.

Lets focus on the themes instead.

What is beauty? What one finds ugly is someone else’s white swan. The age old word that says beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, while that makes sense, it’s also worth the while to note that the eyes that see you as beautiful, do they belong to the people in your immediate world? The book establishes the reality of an unsatisfying relationship. The lack of emotional and physical satisfaction and it’s effect on a relationship is horrifically screamed out in a gentle whisper.

Then comes the whole big bang around the nature of oppression. The tale is about oppression. The tale is about violence. The tale is about the might of the will of a few to crush and stamp on the voice of the others. This is a tale of how fractured people and the way they cope up with a flawed life. What choices do we have? Are we strong enough to even make choices? The helplessness of the circumstance would leave us with thoughts and a tinge of depression.

And then comes the theme around choices. There comes a point in time when we have a moment of pristine , demented, twisted catharsis. We act on that impulse and that action goes on to define the way of our life. How far would one go on that conviction? How far would you defend the honour of your choice? How far would you go? What is the extent of what you’d endure and survive in order to hold on to that singular, one and only hope-like thought of a choice? Our protagonist’s choice to be a vegetarian is one such choice. It spawns from a nightmare and Yeong does what she thinks is the right thing to do. The entire tale is her testament to that choice.

The whole book is a glance into the psychology of a person. From a nightmare to a choice. From a choice to an Action. From reasons around that nightmare to the mind’s projection of what it experienced to what it presents as a nightmare? The whole world of interpretation of intent, cause, symbols and their meanings, this book effortlessly tosses all of that out of the window. The book doesn’t pretend to be a super smart , slick dissertation of the human psychology. It does manage to beautifully outline the consequences of gradual and consistent fracture of the self over prolonged duration of time.

The other big theme in the book is Violence. This is a tricky subject. The violence that Yeong endures is almost a 360 degree wrap.

From physical to emotional, from carnal to exploitation, the violence again this woman comes hidden behind masks of varying socially accepted norms.

It makes us question the status quo of right versus wrong. It holds a big ugly mirror that reflects the archaic values ingrained into a patriarchal society.

What stood out in the book is the history shared by the two sisters. It left me numb through implied pain. The little things that had no significant value , the way the little things add up and in retrospect, turn out to be a series of massive life changers, the tale of the two sisters is a culmination of what ifs and regrets. The subtle horror would run chills down your spine.

The rest of the book is around life, death, and death that one endures through each day of a life. The book also elaborates the soul’s metamorphosis into a butterfly. There is far too much going around in this book. The beauty of this is that you get to take what you want to take away from the book.

It is a definite read, if you are used to reading between the lines. There is so much said across everything that is left unsaid.

Karthik

Coming up next : Shantaram.

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La Belle Annabelle

What should have been a fun movie review outlining how good the movie is, how the scares and the scare tactics work, how the movie’s subtle plot points connect well with the Conjuring universe, Unfortunately, it was not the kind of horror that I thought I’d be watching.

The day started off nice and easy. The I-Day. It felt nice to celebrate the day in a way that I could. Spur of the moment decision and I opted to watch a movie, Annabelle : Creation , later in the evening. A quick hop to Leicester Square later, I knew I had arrived an hour before the show could start .It was going to be a good evening after all. I loitered the streets, shot a few pictures, the smiling faces of Londoners was as pleasant as they have always been. With a little time to go, I made it to the movie hall. A large bag of salted popcorn later, the show was all set to begin.

This was a first of many kinds. I’ve been a purist when it comes to picking movie halls. BFI – IMAX. Period. Unfortunately, BFI was still showing Dunkirk, a movie that I seem to be avoiding for no warranted reason, I made that choice to try Super Screen in Cineword Leicester Sq. Italian leather seats, Oh I picked the balcony, which made it even more flamboyant. The balcony was smallish and cozy. I knew I’d enjoy the show. I had picked a nice strategic seat. Bang on Centre to the screen. The horror was all that I needed. Like a junkie after a fix, I was excited about the show that was to begin.

The funny thing that added to the sense of horror in that balcony was the simple fact that when people walked in, the entire room would feed shock waves. Two false jumps later, I had gotten used to the movement and the aftershocks. The ads had started. There were a dozen people sharing the balcony with me. Small crowd. That enhanced the eeriness to the movie watching experience. Perfect.

The floor rattled once again. I had grown wiser to it’s rumble. I ignored it. It rattled and rattled some more. The rattling persisted and I realized that something was going on a few seats away. I slowly turned away from the screen towards the side to see what was going on. Two blokes had kick started a fist fight. They were about 10 seats away from me, a row above.

My initial thought was that they were just a bunch of kids, teasing each other and landing soft punches to kill time. With the clock ticking, the punches didn’t sound soft any more. Yes, I could hear each thud landing. I could hear each fist getting in contact with a body.

Lets just say things escalated really quick. I’ll skip through the gory details. Watch American history X instead. I saw the same thing. Thank god, it wasn’t an execution.

I sat frozen in fear. I didn’t want to be on the path of the two idiots hell bent on killing each other. I made a split decision to run down the stairs and notify the manager , or flag it to the cops who were there on the streets. The message now conveyed, the cops now engaged, as I walked back to the hall to collect my bag, the victim walked past me. The horror still remains in my head and his blood remained splattered across my shirt. I didn’t realize it when he walked past me.

Testimony and witness account narrated to the cops, the movie resumed. With the movie now watched, only when I walked under the lights of the street did I notice streaks of red plotting fashionable tangent across my white shirt. I grew sicker and sicker on the train ride back home. I knew I was hallucinating the smell of blood. It wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It felt all too real to me. The sanctity of my sanity had been breached.

It was the moment when the horror had finally caught on.

What drives us to deliver horror in real life? For what it’s worth, the movie was good and it’s horror was pale in comparison to the one which I didn’t volunteer to witness.