THE VEGETARIAN by Han Kang (Hogarth Books, 2015)
By turns surreal and nightmarish, this is a short but complex novel which is full of secrets.
In very broad terms I would describe it as a book about descending into silence and , quite possibly , incurable madness.
The main character is Yeong-hye who is, by all accounts, an unremarkable woman. In the words of her brother-in-law: “The only thing that was especially unusual about her was that she didn’t eat meat”.
Her husband is beyond himself with a combination of rage and repulsion over his wife’s sudden change in eating habits. Her father turns to violence and attempts to force feed her meat. She tries to kill herself and is eventually institutionalized. She gives the impression that she would be happy to die and/or become a tree. Continue reading
ROOM directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Canada/Ireland/UK, 2015)
Joy and Jack look for light in the darkness.
Room is the story of survival. The main victim is Joy Newcombe ( which evokes the idea that he is the devil in human form. While in captivity he has fathered Joy’s 5-year-old son Jack and you imagine that sexual abuse is the prime motive for his actions.
There is always a morbid curiosity to uncover the dark secrets that drive this kind of depraved behavior. A weakness of the movie is that we learn so little about this man’s background or what happens to him after being apprehended. We hear of, but never really see any physical abuse and only the sound of a creaking bed tells us that he is repeatedly raping her. Continue reading
RABBIT, RUN by John Updike (Penguin Books, First published, 1971)
Powerful works of fiction are not dependent on the nobility or likability of the characters.
Two of my favorite fictional creationd are Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov from Crime And Punishment and Mervyn Peake’s Steerpike from the Gormenghast trilogy. Each are prime examples of men behaving badly motivated by a bitter and twisted ambition. Their ruthless and murderous actions are deplorable but they are both fascinatingly complex characters.
Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom is in a wholly different kettle of fish. There is nothing endearing about him and the very banality of his failings mean that he barely qualifies as an anti-hero. He is not a killer, nor does he crave power but his selfishness, random lustfulness and frustration are ugly traits that infect the lives around him.
A one time basketball star, he is unable to come to terms with a humdrum life with a dead-end job and a dismal marriage. He wants out but has nowhere to run.
Updike’s cynical depiction of the human condition is so absolute that we are pitched into the mire of Rabbit’s squallid affairs without a moral compass. We are not required to condone or condemn his actions nor to sympathize when he hits rock bottom to the point that : “He feels underwater, caught in chains of transparent slime, ghosts of the urgent ejaculations he has spat into the mild bodies of women”. Continue reading
To mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I’m sharing this song and video.
It was written for the documentary The Hunting Ground which highlights the shocking number of rapes that take place on US college campuses and the subsequent cover up by the institutions involved.
The song written by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga is entitled “Til It Happens to You” and the video graphically addresses this important issue: