Published 2015 Portobello Books
Winner 2016 Man Booker International Prize
Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, commits a shocking act of subversion. As her rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, Yeong-hye spirals further and further into her fantasises of abandoning her fleshy prison and becoming – impossibly, ecstatically – a tree.
A book which I saw a lot on Instagram and this inspired me to purchase it. Winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize is a short and beautifully written account of a deterioration into mental illness. This book eloquently skirts the line between madness and sanity, exploring the notion that we all stray close to that line but few cross it and in doing so shake off the conventions that limit us.
Written from 3 different points of view and effectively broken into 3 sections we gain a fuller perspective of the impact of mental illness, on Yeong-hye and her family. In her own narrative we understand her rationale for her seemingly irrational behaviour. Told in this way there is a sense of something ‘going to far’ to the ‘point of no return’.
This is not a happy tale and for the reader, as the observer we witness the detonation of the family, triggered by the refusal of Yeong-hye to eat meat. A seemingly innocuous start to what becomes a tragic story of a life destroyed by mental illness.
While I enjoyed the experience of reading this book and appreciated the quality of the writing as well as the subject matter, I was left feeling there are many layers to this book and I may not have penetrated them all! That did not detract from my reading experience but is simply my view that different readers will have different experiences with this book, more so perhaps than with other works of fiction.