The following are the opening first two paragraphs. Read. Please.
Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way. To be frank, the first time I met her I wasn’t even attracted to her. Middling height; bobbed hair neither long nor short; jaundiced, sickly-looking skin; somewhat prominent cheekbones; her timid, sallow aspect told me all I needed to know. As she came up to the table where I was waiting, I couldn’t help but notice her shoes – the plainest black shoes imaginable. And that walk of hers – neither fast nor slow, striding nor mincing.
However, if there wasn’t any special attraction, nor did any particular drawbacks present themselves, and therefore there was no reason for the two of us not to get married. The passive personality for this woman in whom I could detect neither freshness nor charm, or anything especially refined, suited me down to the ground. There was no need to affect intellectual leanings in order to win her over, or to worry that she might be comparing me to the preening men who pose in fashion catalogues, and she didn’t get worked up if I happened to be late for one of our meetings. The paunch that started appearing in my mid-twenties, my skinny legs and forearms that steadfastly refused to bulk up in spite of my best efforts, the inferiority complex I used to have about the size of my pen1s – I could rest assured that I wouldn’t have to fret about such things on her account.
I love the prose. It’s so spare, cold and each sentence feels like a razor cut on your arm. Not a single word is wasted. The Vegetarian is a dark and occasionally shocking novel about a woman who turns vegetarian – something that is extremely uncommon in South Korean society – and the way this affects her relationships with the people around her, including her sister and her brother-in-law, an artist who becomes obsessed with her.
South Korean author Han Kang has won the new-style Man Booker International prize for her book, sharing the £50,000 prize with her British translator Deborah Smith. What a book this is. Devastating in its lean prose and cinematic in vision. I already know who can direct this and who the actress can be. This is definitely a film either Kim Ki-Duk or Park Chan-Wook can helm. Actress wise this is in need of a very brave soul and I can totally see Jeon Do-Yeon in it. But back to the book. This is simply one of the most original novels I have read in a while. Totally unsettling but yet it has a tranquil uneasy core. Very bizarre and it feels like a Twilight Zone episode but with more class. The structure of the story is told in three surreal spellbinding acts. This is an unapologetic and totally ravishing tour de force.
I thought I won’t read a better book than Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind this year. I am wrong. I will read anything written by Han Kang from now on.
Han Kang (right) and her British translator, Deborah Smith, with the winning book, The Vegetarian