October 2016 Club

 The Vegetarian by Han King

A strangely haunting tale that sticks with the reader, The Vegetarian tells of Yeong-hye, an average dutiful wife who suddenly feels an intense need to become a vegetarian following a violent, recurring dream. The ingrained meat-based culture of South Korea means that her family and husband fail to comprehend her decision to become a herbivore and she quickly becomes an outsider, with no societal understanding of why she has chosen this way of living.

The novella is related in three sections.

The first section is told by Yeong-hye’s second-rate husband who simply cannot understand why his mundane, unremarkable life has suddenly been interrupted by his wife’s decision to throw out all the meat in the house. He worries what his colleagues will think at business dinners and how their wives will treat them. Part one ends with Yeong-hye’s father attempting to force feed his daughter with some pork and concludes with her own sad and violent rebellion.

The second section is narrated by Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law, an artist who has a slightly creepy obsession with her body, and in particular, a pale blue-green birthmark – a Mongolian mark – on her buttocks. He considers it as “perhaps a mark of photosynthesis”. Having persuaded her to model for him, over several sessions, he paints intensely coloured flowers all over her body, eventually taking advantage of her, given her increasingly delicate state of mind.

The third section is from the point of view of In-hye, her sister who has struggled to pick up the pieces as her family implodes around her. In-hye visits Yeong-hye in a psychiatric hospital in the mountains where she is being treated for anorexia and schizophrenia and there’s not much hope for her as all she wishes is to metamorphose into a tree.

Themes of social constraints, agency for one’s own body and mind and Kaftaesque metamorphosis echo throughout Han King’s concise, ethereal writing expertly translated by Deborah Smith.

Colourway inspiration

For the semi-solid colourway, there was really only a single colour choice – green resonated throughout the book as Yeong-hye not only becomes a vegetarian but seeks to become vegetation. But I wanted to create a slightly off-kilter green to reflect the darkness of the story. So I took a teal green and mixed it with a dark kelp green and immersed the yarn once. Having extracted the yarn from the pot, I mixed the same green and added a helping of black. This was how the colourway Chlorophyll was created.

For the variegated colourway, I took inspiration from the colourful flowers that Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law painted on her body. In the book, they’re vivid oranges, reds, blues and purples, but I wanted to reflect her ethereal nature and when I think of the character, I think of more delicate flowers like orchids, lilies and magnolias. So I used a mid-green and added touches of the dark kelp green so that the variegated toned in with the semi-solid. To that I added a pale pink and a plum-pink and left bits of white to suggest delicacy and finally you may be able to see just a touch of pale green-blue to represent the Mongolian birthmark. I called it Floral Obsession.

The yarn base is Slinky Twist – a twisted blend of merino and silk.