I began this short and beautifully written novel, where strange
blood-thirsty dreams are intertwined with mundane, domestic
interactions, I thought that it may have been about the central
character’s, Yeong-hye, attempts to free herself from the
male-dominated society in which she lives. Her decision to stop
eating meat was, for me, a sign of a new independence and an
awareness of the soul-destroying relationships – husband, family –
all of which are threatening to destroy her.
as I read on, I realized that Han Kang’s book delves much deeper
than male dominance and female acquiescence. It may be about the
restrictions imposed by a male-dominated society, but I feel that it
is also about the many other restrictions that limit both men and
women. Most people are unaware of the limitations, because they are
not interested in pushing boundaries: they spend mundane, unfulfilled
lives somewhere in a safe middle zone. Han Kang herself has said that
the book is an allegory for present-day Korea, and, as such, it is
probably a description of Korea’s attempt to find herself and
realize her potential.
knows that there is something else, but to reach this something
she also knows that she has to extricate herself from everything that
is holding her back – first meat and eventually any
kind of food: she needs to become as one with the natural environment
around her. Her brother-in-law, the artist, is subconsciously aware
of the beauty that exists beyond that point of letting-go, but he is
unable to let go, fettered, as it were, by his animal desires. At the
end of the book, Yeong-hye’s sister, In-hye, begins to understand
that Yeong-hye is not mad, and she finally understands what it is that
her sister has been trying to communicate.
a painting, this is a beautiful but disturbing book with many
different levels and, no doubt, many individual interpretations.