Book report: The Vegetarian, Han Kang

02recipehealth-articleLarge-v2.jpgI read the first third and started the second, and have given up for now. I found it difficult to get past the first few pages, it has to be said, and I forced myself on especially since it’s meant to be in three parts.
Not particularly the style of writing I enjoy. NB – It’s a translation.

I found the violence or violent depiction of society distressing. Is this a bad thing? Is it too close to home? I often think about art and what effect it leaves on its audience: does it open up the world, or shut down the audience. If the content is dark and about terrible things, does the artist want us to feel and do things – take action, in whatever way – in real life after we’re done experiencing the artificial world, the crafted art? I am particularly resistant to pieces which debilitate or close down. Am I talking about an artist’s responsibility? Or am I making personal judgements about what I see as good art?

This book made me think of the characters in it as faceless shouting yellow people, with one suffering quiet one at the centre, also featureless. It didn’t feel extreme enough for me to see it as a statement about the world and humanity, but instead made me react against the culture and country in the book. Perhaps this is a clever way of making me confront my xenophobia.

And I’m really unsure about the language used for the internal thoughts of the main character. Question: how do we depict inner life? Remembering the film Panic and the extreme difficulty to create the feeling of agoraphobia. Perhaps not.

Am also currently reading Beauty is a Wound. Another translation. Because I speak Malay, which is similar to Indonesian, I can hear familiar phrasing and humour of the author, but the translation feels awkward. Note to self: must read Jeremy Tiang’s translations. I really enjoyed his book and when I’ve read them, his translations don’t jar.

Book 3: This is a year of reading more women writers and writers of colour. I’ll make brief notes on what I’ve read and note some questions and thoughts which each piece has provoke in me.

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