The Vegetarian by Han Kang

imageBefore the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

It’s rare nowadays I finish a book in a day, never mind a single sitting, but that’s what happened to me this time last week after picking up The Vegetarian by Han Kang. Despite the good reviews I’d read, it wasn’t a book I’d expected to love as much as I did.  I couldn’t put it down and I couldn’t stopped turning pages.

One night Yeong-hye has a dream. In it there is blood, lots of blood. She wakes up full of dread and decides she must give up meat in order to get rid of the lump she now feels in her chest, becoming the vegetarian of the title. It might not be the most conventional way to make such a decision but here, in the UK, deciding to become a vegetarian wouldn’t be much of a big deal, regardless of why you made the choice. This is South Korea though (and the book a translation) and Yeong-hye’s decision is greeted with surprise by her husband. Still, he thinks, it won’t last.  It is just one her quirks.

But it does last – a week, a month – and her husband goes from surprised to angry, involving his wife’s family who are just as bemused and annoyed as he is. They can’t understand Yeong-hye’s behaviour but are all agreed it isn’t right and it’s an embarrassment. What will people think? No one stops to ask Yeong-hye what she thinks or why she is doing it. No one seems to wonder what is behind her decision or feel anything but annoyance at how she is wasting away. It is all quite sad and I felt for Yeong-hye as she was attacked by her family. It was a fascinating glimpse into the social mores of South Korea, the strict rules and the role of women.

All are so constraining. No deviation is allowed, even in the artistic. This can been seen in the second of the three parts that’s make up The Vegetarian, all of which involve Yeong-hye, when her brother-in-law develops an obsession with his sister-in-law that can only end in disaster and in the third, when Yeong-hye has been abandoned by all but her sister for not doing what she is told. Through it all, it is apparent how little control over her life Yeong-hye has other than the food she puts in her mouth.

This isn’t an easy story to read. It deals with difficult issues and does so head on. Yet, despite all this it isn’t a depressing book, though I would describe it as harsh and hard hitting. And powerful. There is a sadness there too and I found I cared a lot for Yeong-hye from the first few pages on, coming to feel the same about her sister by the end. A week on, I am still thinking about the book, which was beautifully translated, a real compliment to the author and the story. Loved it and can’t recommend it enough.


Note: I received this book in return for a fair and honest review from blogging for books. All thoughts and feelings are my own.

Buy now: Amazon UK / Amazon US

Fair Play by Tove Jansson

902743Jonna and Mari are artists. They live together, sort of, and have for twenty or thirty years.  I say sort of because their apartments are at opposite ends of the top floor of an old building, connected by an empty attic space.  When they are working, they stay in their own homes.  When they aren’t working, they spend their time in Jonna’s apartment watching American movies (Fair Play is set in Finland) and avoiding the world or in a small cabin owned by Mari on a small island with no other inhabitants, still avoiding the world.  Sometimes, they travel, taking long trips to other countries.

Occasionally, they have visitors or meet new people who they seem to attach themselves to rather than become friends with.  Whilst excited by the new additions, each time it seems to upset the balance of their lives, the routine of their non-routine world.  There is Mari’s old boyfriend for example, who says he’s going to come camping on the island then doesn’t show up, and the young artist Jonna befriends and feeds food normally set aside for Mari until one day she doesn’t turn up anymore and Mari, who had felt like she no longer belonged, is welcome into the flat again.

Told in short chapters that are linear timewise but do not necessarily follow each other immediately, Fair Play gives snapshots into lives less ordinary than mine.  As an outsider, getting a glimpse of this world, I struggled to understand it and get a real sense of time and place.  The seeming lack of direction, the misunderstandings that were never discussed – I wondered whether I was missing something and kept going back on myself.  Then I read that Fair Play was based on Tove Jansson’s own long-term relationship and, knowing this, I started to feel like I was getting not so much a work of fiction but a glimpse of her real life and started enjoying it more as a result (though not sure why, perhaps I was no longer looking for a big idea?).

With this in mind, I found it interesting though not compelling and I did like the style of writing.  It was sparse and simple and seemed (at least to my untrained eye) well translated.  I think the problem was I wanted more, I’m just not sure more of what.  More of a story maybe and definitely more pages – this was billed as a novel but was only 84 pages long.  When it ended I felt disappointed and slightly cheated.  Which is a shame because I don’t think this was a bad book and I think other people would really like it.  It just wasn’t for me.


Still Waters by Viveca Sten

imageWhen the body of Krister Berggren washes up on the beach on the island of Sandhamn, the obvious choice to send to investigate is Inspector Thomas Andreasson, who spent his childhood summers there.

At first, Thomas thinks Krister’s death is an accident, maybe a suicide, rather than murder.  But something doesn’t feel quite right and he digs a little deeper.  Then, Krister’s cousin – Kicki – turns up dead too (also on Sandhamn) and Thomas digs deeper still, uncovering more secrets than maybe even he intended.

Despite being a popular place with tourists, Sandhamn is also the home to residents who guard their way of life carefully and live by a set of rules outsiders can find hard to understand.  Even those who have visited the island all their lives, like Thomas, don’t know quite how far some will go to protect their way of life and their secrets, of which there are many.

The same can be said of his childhood friend, Nora, who is holidaying there with her family. She too spent her summers on Sandhamn. Her family own a house there and she thinks she knows the island well.  It’s this belief that puts her in danger as she finds herself helping Thomas without even being asked, putting her legal skills and financial knowledge (she works in a bank) to good use in trying to find an answer for the murders.

I really liked Nora and Thomas and they made a good team.  Both were well-rounded and Viveca Sten has created a world around them of family and friends that make them feel solid, people I want to care about and who I believed in.  This was important as this book wasn’t one where there was a murder on every page to distract you from plot development.  It was, instead, a book that set the scene and then took you through the process of figuring out just who was responsible and why.  I really liked the style and it reminded me a little of Louise Penny in that the characters were normal people and the police officers weren’t completely dysfunctional and had home lives (imagine!).

The setting played it’s part too.  The closed quality of the community whose way of life was being affected by the influx of tourists and people wanting to own second homes instead of live on the island.  The shock it feels when the murders happen because, well, those things don’t on Sandhamn.

On her website, Viveca Sten says she, like Thomas and Nora, spent her summers there and her descriptions suggest she not only knows the place well but has a real affection for it.  There are photos on her website of Sandhamn and I can see why, it’s beautiful.  Too beautiful for there to be murderers living amongst its residents but the perfect setting for the story and those to follow – this is the first in a series of books staring Thomas and Nora, ones I will definitely be reading.  Loved it!


Tuesday Intro: 8th September, 2015

once again this week I’m linking up with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. I really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

So after buying a batch of books that weren’t my normal reads thinking I would shake up my reading a bit, I’ve ended up picking up another crime novel. I just couldn’t help myself- it was 99p on Amazon and sounded great.


On a hot July morning on Sweden’s idyllic vacation island of Sandhamn, a man takes his dog for a walk and makes a gruesome discovery: a body, tangled in fishing net, has washed ashore.

Police detective Thomas Andreasson is the first to arrive on the scene. Before long, he has identified the deceased as Krister Berggren, a bachelor from the mainland who has been missing for months. All signs point to an accident—until another brutalized corpse is found at the local bed-and-breakfast. But this time it is Berggren’s cousin, whom Thomas interviewed in Stockholm just days before.

As the island’s residents reel from the news, Thomas turns to his childhood friend, local lawyer Nora Linde. Together, they attempt to unravel the riddles left behind by these two mysterious outsiders—while trying to make sense of the difficult twists their own lives have taken since the shared summer days of their youth.

Here’s how it starts…

Everything was completely still and peaceful as only winter can be, when the archipelago belongs to those who live there, and the raucous summer visitors have not yet taken over the islands.

The water was dark and shining, the cold of winter lying heavily on the surface. Odd patches of snow rested on the rocks. A few mergansers stood out like dots against the sky, and the sun was low on the horizon.

“Help me,” he yelled. “Help me, for God’s sake!”

What do you think, would you keep reading?


Fuzz McFlops by Eva Furnari

Over the past six months, as my daughter has gotten a little older, she has been wanting to read longer books with more detailed stories. Bear Snores On and The Gruffalo aren’t quite enough for her. When I got the chance to review Fuzz McFlops then, I thought it was worth a go.


Fuzz McFlops is one of the most famous rabbit-writers in the land, but ever since his classmates teased him about his lopsided ears at school he’s lead a lonely life, writing sad stories such as The Withered Carrot. Now he’s started receiving some scandalous, outrageous and rather eye-catching letters from one of his fans. Who is she? And why does Fuzz’s funny, too-short ear start twitching every time he replies to her shocking notes? As their correspondence continues, Fuzz McFlops begins to wonder where this tale is heading, and whether he might not discover a happy ending for once, after all…

One of the the things we’ve struggled with as we transition into “big girl books” is that my daughter doesn’t have the greatest attention span and so there still needs to be enough in the way of illustrations to keep her interested and help her understanding. Fuzz McFlops seems to have found that balance and she really enjoyed it. I did too, a big plus as I won’t mind reading it again – and I’m sure we will.

It’s a really sweet love story about a misfit rabbit poet (Fuzz) and a reader (Charlotte) who feels the need to point out his stories aren’t that cheerful. Her honesty encourages Fuzz to tell her how he feels and helps him grow in confidence. Suddenly his ears that aren’t the same length don’t seem to matter too much. The moral you find in kids books is there but it doesn’t beat you over the head which I thought was a good thing.

A slight downside is this is a translation of a Brazilian story and so every now and then something does feel as if it has been lost in translation – the poems Fuzz writes don’t rhythm for example and a few sentences feel clunky and were hard to read out loud. I am not sure my daughter noticed these though. She just liked the tale and the drawings, which I thought were great – bright, colourful and not babyish as at all – which means, overall this was liked a lot my mother and daughter and one I would recommend.


Note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.

The Room by Jonas Karlsson

Title: The Room
Author: Jonas Karlsson
Genre: General Fiction
Source: Review Copy
Rating: Liked it a Lot(4 out of 5)


When I first put this book on my to read list, I remember writing that I thought it would be one of those books that I either loved or hated. Just the description made me think there wouldn’t be a middle ground.

Bjorn is a compulsive, exacting bureaucrat who discovers a secret room at the government office where he works–a secret room that no one else in his office will acknowledge. When Bjorn is in his room, what his coworkers see is him standing by the wall and staring off into space looking dazed, relaxed, and decidedly creepy. Bjorn’s bizarre behavior eventually leads his coworkers to try to have him fired, but Bjorn will turn the tables on them with help from his secret room.

In the end, I didn’t love it but I wasn’t far off. This is a novella more than a novel, running only 137 pages, and a real page turner. It is, however, hard to describe because in a way, it’s about nothing but office politics and perception.

Bjorn is one of those people I think everyone has met or worked with at some point. Someone who isn’t on quite the same page as everyone else in the office, who struggles to join in with conversations and whose attempts at interaction often feel awkward and forced. Through descriptions of his colleagues behaviours you get to see that is how they see Bjorn. Different is a polite word for it, especially when he starts insisting that the wall he is staring at is a door to a room.

At the same time, because the story is told by Bjorn and about Bjorn you get a glimpse into what is going in his head. It is another world. And in his world he is smart, capable, all seeing and all knowing. Everyone around him is next to useless and he has not time for them or their water cooler chat. He can’t and won’t attempt to understand why his behaviour might make them uncomfortable.

In the end, the two worlds collide and can’t co-exist. It isn’t surprising but at the same time, right to the end, I had no idea which world would win. I couldn’t tell if Bjorn had uncovered something he shouldn’t have or if he really was going off the deep end. It was fun trying to figure it out though and the book was really funny at times. It was also sad and disturbing in places. Hard to fit in in 137 pages and really well done. Highly recommended.

House of Evidence by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson

Title: House of Evidence
Author: Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson
genre: Crime
Rating: 3 out of 5


Set in Reykjavik in 1973, police are called to the scene of a murder. Jacob Kieler Junior has been found shot dead with no signs of a break-in and no motive – at least initially. The added twist is that Jacob Kieler Senior was also murdered, shot almost 30 years previously with the same gun. Although police had a suspect at the time, no one was ever charged and the suspect is long dead. His son is not, however, and becomes a prime suspect.

This book was published in Iceland in 1998 and in the UK (as a translation) in 2012 so it’s been out a while. I bought it because it was a Kindle 99p deal and it had good reviews, although it’s ended up sitting in my to read list for quite a while. I enjoy a good Scandinavian crime novel so though I would give an Icelandic one a go.

Read More »

The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill

Title: The Summer of Dead Toys
Author: Antonio Hill
Genre: Crime
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summer of Dead Toys

What is it about?

Inspector Hector Salgado has just returned to Barcelona after an enforced holiday; he was suspended after brutally beating the key suspect in a pedophilia / human trafficking ring. The suspect has now disappeared and Hector is the prime suspect for having made him disappear. While he waits to hear if his career is over, Hector is asked by his boss to take a second look at the case of the accidental death of a young man, something his mother doesn’t accept. The young man was a member of one of the most powerful families in Barcelona and things need to be handled carefully. Hector agrees (can he do anything else?) and finds out that the boy’s mother may be right, especially when he comes across Iris.

What did I think?

I really enjoyed The Summer of Dead Toys, although I admit I wasn’t sure in the beginning. I would say for the first few chapters I found myself putting it down a fair bit. Then, something clicked and I read the second two thirds in a day or so. Read More »