Recently I became absorbed with Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian” and Chuck Palahniuk’s “Make Something Up”. I hadn’t read anything like these for a long time. They have some similarities and although I definitely preferred the latter so I will have to spill my guts out and start with .
“Make Something Up” by Chuck Palahniuk
I heard that Fight Club: The Musical is being made. Might be a rumour, might be a contradiction in terms. Edward Norton has a beautiful warm voice as seen and heard in Woody Allen’s “Everyone Says I Love You” (1998). But Brad Pitt? I am not sure. What would his audition piece be? I did not read Fight Club the Book I still do not think I can read it as it is quite male-dominated and bare-knuckled. I liked any movies with Edward Norton in it. If anyone can do bare knuckles, it’s Edward Norton.
“Make Something Up” is like literary devices on crystal meth. I just adored this book of novellas and short stories. It’s literary, it’s Americana, it’s art, it’s gothic, it’s retro, it’s dark, it’s kitsch, it’s noir. It is all of these and still worth devouring. The writing style is savage and slick. I would love to write like Chuck Palahniuk.
How does Palahniuk do it? Each story is wicked in both senses of the word. The power of his observation and nuances struck a chord with me. He has famously said “I like to write in verbs not adjectives”. I can see how motto has driven his punchy amoral style. I am actually scared to turn the pages. Something bad or good or crazy will happen and there is no telling what or when this will take place. Palahniuk has a way of dealing with violence and unexpected surprises with dark humour. His female characters are all like caricatures, blondes with big tits and miniskirts or grannies with fake teeth and sweatshirts. I don’t know. Maybe they are all like this in America? But I forgive him his sexism which is understandable due to the kind of characters he writes about, none of which are likeable. They are all mad, bad or sad. Great stuff! Who wants to read about goody two shoes?
In the opening story, ‘Knock Knock’, a son tells one dirty joke to his dying father, who in turn had told him bad taste dirty jokes all the years of his childhood when he didn’t even know what dirty jokes were or what the names of female private parts were. This has poignant repercussions. In ‘Zombies’, a high school craze of detaching cardiac defibrillators from walls to self-inflict electric shocks leads to a iop student’s downfall. Another story that stood out was ‘Tunnel of Love’ in which a massage “therapist” administers an unusual “relief” to dying patients. Fight Club comes back in ‘Excursion’ with the original character Tyler Durden.
The truth about the visceral style is that I feel very greedy and hungry after consuming Chuck Palahniuk’s books. They really waken the senses and the guts.
“The Vegetarian” by Han Kang
Due to my own naivete, I actually thought that “The Vegetarian” is about a vegetarian. It is and it isn’t. The title is a cautionary poetic description of the mental degeneration of the titular vegetarian. As we know, this is literary fiction in translation. What happens in literary fiction is just by the by. The plot is not crazy or twisty. It is totally linear.The most interesting thing about this book is the structure. It is traditional, linear and in three parts. The type of plot is: Transformation. Or Downfall.
The first part is in the viewpoint (VP) of the husband of the said vegetarian. Starts off well, Murakami-like, then strange things happen. At no stage is the vegetarian’s VP known or discussed. The first part is my favorite as it is the least literary. It is plainly written from a blokey bloke’s point of view and devoid of poetry, literary devices, metaphors or symbols. You actually sympathize with him because his wife has not only become vegetarian she has started to mentally unravel, unable to look after herself let alone him.
The second part is in the VP of the brother-in-law, a video artist who fancies the pants of the vegetarian. Although he is an annoying arty tosser, this part is not too bad and still quite digestible because he is trying to make art and in the meantime shag her. In the process he takes advantage of her and his own marriage falls apart when they are caught in the act.
The third and concluding part is in the VP of the vegetarian’s sister. Her marriage has fallen apart so she is now the carer of the vegetarian who has to be incarcerated in a mental home. This is my least favorite part It is thick and gooey with poetry which I secretly enjoyed reading because it is very heady, gutsy and “visceral” (that word again). I am not scattering this word carelessly. It is literally visceral because it relates to the guts of the vegetarian in the subject matter. You won’t feel squeamish and it won’t hurt because the language is so highly-styled and artistic. Nothing is done in poor taste. Yet I am and remain clueless about the conclusion. I really would like to have a spoiler alert here for those of you who like spoilers but I have none. In itself that is a spoiler.
1.relating to the viscera.“the visceral nervous system”
2.relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect.