For this month, fittingly as Christmas grows ever nearer, ‘Red’ is our themed colour. Of course there are obvious choices with red in the title but once again the slant on this is going to be a little esoteric! Red is a colour along with Green that is most associated with Christmas, though I am not going to be looking at Christmas themed books so these choices might be a good bet for people who want something different and are feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the Christmas bonanza of items which is foisted upon us at this time of year!
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
The colour ‘red’ brings to mind several issues and items one of them being meat and The Vegetarian: A Novel sensitively explores this theme.This novel by South Korean novelist Han Kang (beautifully translated by Deborah Smith) concerns the story of a woman called Yeong-Hye who has a psychological breakdown and stops eating meat and fewer and fewer meals until she is severely anorexic. She then believes that she is a plant and only sips water. The story though is told in linear narrative form, from the point of view of people around her in three sections. The first section consists of her husband’s point of view when she first changes her behaviour and says she will not eat meat, which culminates in an excellent dinner scene at the end of the section. The next section is told from the point of view of her sister’s husband a video artist who becomes obsessed with her. The final section is told from the point of view of Kim In-Hye, Yong-Hye’s sister. This novel is very powerful as it is making a huge statement about the difficulties of the restricted norms of behaviour within South Korean society. It is saying that in some ways individuals need these societal norms as guidance, for without them they are lost however, by denying individual thought and behaviour you have a less freely diverse society in terms of acceptance around difference. Therefore, when people lose their way they can behave in very extreme ways. It seems to be a society on the edge, a society of extremes which can fuel high levels of suicide and mental illness. Also the theme of ‘shame’ must be very powerful indeed as Yeong-Hye has brought shame on her family and her husband by refusing to eat meat.
Kang also makes a feminist statement as we learn more about Yeong Hye’s father than her mother and Yeong-Hye is exploited by men and loses her sanity. Kim In-Hye is seen as the most reliable, responsible and resourceful woman. She is the breadwinner who holds everyone together and is the epitome of the dutiful daughter but by doing so she is betrayed by her husband.
This is a world where women are expected to be loyal, dutiful, quiet, obedient and respectful. They should conform at all times and put their husband’s children and family elders before themselves. They will then have very little time to or for themselves.
The book that this most resembles to my mind is The Yellow Wallpaper which I looked at here as we are also examining a woman’s descent into madness the main difference apart from the time and location being that we are looking at it from the point of view of the other people in her life and not through her own eyes. Overall, The Vegetarian is an interesting read and one worth pursuing over December.
The Expats by Chris Pavone
When you think of ‘red’ the theme of danger also comes to mind and it is with this associated theme in mine that I have to include The Expats
This is an excellent read and I have to congratulate author Chris Pavone for creating such realistic and strong female characters. The Expats tells the story of Kate Moore, an ex-CIA agent who moves to Luxembourg with her husband and two sons. Her husband has taken a lucrative new position as a security consultant for a bank. She however, cannot let her old career fade it seems as new people arrive in Luxembourg she is very suspicious and realises that her new life is not at all what it seems. There are some beautifully constructed scenes in this novel one in particular for me stands out and that is the scene in the art gallery in Berlin with her ex-handler Hayden where a mysterious man in a fedora and raincoat is following them. The scene is very filmic as is the whole book and can be easily envisioned (it would make a great film or TV adaptation). Pavone explores the issues that women face when they have to choose between their career and being a stay at home mother, Kate feels unfulfilled as a mother and longs for the excitement that her old career gave her however, she realises that it was so easy when she had no family ties and that more is at stake now. Kate is also laden down with guilt from a past incident which caused her to resign from active field work in the CIA. Although Kate is clever she does come to realise that she can wrongly predict situations and faces a comeuppance in the final scene when the jigsaw is completed and she realises just how much she has underestimated certain characters.
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Night Film is Marisha Pessl’s second book and the one that I have found most enjoyable. It has an association with the colour red in that it contains a mystery about a death and heart stopping scenes of threat. The story set up is very strange, in essence it could be said to be a detective novel with investigative journalist Scott McGrath on the trail of the recently deceased Ashley Cordova who is the daughter of a reclusive eccentric horror film director Stanislas Cordova. Stanislas is a mysterious man who retired from public life more than thirty years ago and has a following of dedicated but disturbed fans.This novel is also very filmic, certain scenes are reminiscent of a Murakami novel as you follow this man who meets strange characters along the way. The final scenes of the book set in the mansion of the film director and on his original film sets are in particular very tense and you realise that there is a lot at stake. The ending was quite different from what I expected and you wonder if there is more to be continued? Pessl creatively uses epistolatory effects in the novel, such as print outs of fan sites from the dark web. You want to find out what has happened to this director and indeed his daughter but the more the story evolves the more complicated it gets and further issues arise to try and sway McGrath and the readers off course. I studied film as part of my first degree and was intrigued by the idea of this situation as it echoed for me elements of fandom, and how certain director auteurs are lionised and held in great esteem by some, whereas other people cannot stand them!
These are our rather eclectic book choices for our theme of ‘Red’ this December, let us know if you agree or not and a we wish very Merry Christmas to you all!