The Mud and Stars Book Blog

thoughts from a girl who spends her days in other worlds…

Mini reviews of strange and mysterious books: The Vegetarian, Bright Young Things, and The Leaving

on September 25, 2016

Hello lovely people! Hope you’re all having glorious Sundays.

Today I thought I’d do some mini reviews of books I’ve read recently. As you may have noticed, I’m struggling to keep to a regular blogging schedule at the moment (for personal reasons) and the main thing I’m struggling to keep up with is review-writing.

Today I decided to stop beating myself up about not managing to write 1000-word reviews of these books, and just write some mini ones instead.

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Soooo, without further ado, here’s what I thought of the three novels I’ve curled up with most recently:


The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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This was a very strange book! Winner of the International Booker Prize, I picked this up because I’d heard a lot of buzz about it on BookTube. I definitely enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I fully understood it. The novel explores so many different themes within its less-than-200 page span, including mental illness, societal norms, eroticism, identity, and violence. I want to re-read it at some point, because I think I’ll wring more meaning from it the second time around.

This novel is set in South Korea, and is about a woman named Yeong-hye who decides to become a vegetarian after experiencing horrific recurring nightmares of a bloody and violent nature… Her vegetarianism is viewed by everyone around her as abnormal – a ‘shocking act of subversion’ – and her entire family go to extreme lengths to get her to start eating meat again. The story is told in three parts, which almost feel like separate short stories; the first part is told from the perspective of her husband, the second from her sister’s husband’s point of view, and the third from her sister’s. The writing style is crisp and simple, yet peppered with splashes of extremely vivid imagery, and it was pretty damn beautiful, tbh.

The novel ends up becoming very surreal (Yeong-hye decides that she wants to become a tree… this is in the blurb, so not a spoiler!), and the middle section of the book is essentially literary erotica, but I was gripped for the entire reading experience, despite the weirdness and disturbing themes. Or maybe because of! I do love me some weird.


Bright Young Things by Scarlett Thomas

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I’d badly wanted to read this book for forever, and although it didn’t entirely live up to my expectations, I enjoyed it nevertheless. This novel is about six graduates stuck in dead-end jobs who all apply on a whim to a mysterious job advertisement which says only this: “Bright young things wanted for big project.” Cut to the main body of the story, and these six young people wake up on an island with no memory of how they got there, and no knowledge of who has brought them there and why. I love the concept so much, because again it appeals to my love of weirdness, but if you go into this expecting all of your questions to be answered, I think you will be disappointed. The story is really more character driven, and it is mostly told in dialogue – a lot of it based around pop culture – as the characters get to know one another in this strange situation.

The novel is set in the 90s, so if you haven’t lived through that decade, some of the references might go over your head. I was a tiny child throughout that period – most of my 90s knowledge is Pokémon, Yo-yo, and Tamagotchi based – so a lot of the references went over my head too. But I don’t think it entirely matters; this book is an exploration of pop culture and what it means and how we all fit into it, and the sentiments apply no matter which decade you were born in.

We do get some answers towards the end of the book, but you will still be left with a lot of questions. Nevertheless, the ending for me was very satisfying, and I don’t think the novel could have made the point it was trying to make in any other way. I desperately wish Scarlett Thomas would write a sequel though!


The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

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I picked up this fantastic YA thriller at YALC – mainly because of its gorgeously creepy cover – and it ended up being so addictive I whipped through it in just a couple of sittings on my holiday sun-lounger. This is another one with a strange, mysterious premise. Six children vanish on their first day of kindergarten; eleven years later, five of them return, but none of the returners can remember anything about where they’ve been, who abducted them, or what kind of people they’ve become over the past eleven years.

The story is told in alternating perspective chapters by Scarlett (one of the abducted kids), Lucas (another of the abductees), and Avery (the sister of Max, the kid who doesn’t return with the others).  It’s definitely worth getting a physical copy of this book, because the formatting of the text is so creative, especially in Scarlett and Lucas’s chapters, and it’s one of the most unique and awesome things about the book.

This story was such a delicious mystery, and I loved how the novel explored memory, and how our memories work/refuse to work in certain situations. I also enjoyed all of the conspiracy theories that emerged when the children were returned; conspiracies are one of my favourite bookish tropes!

If I had to come up with one criticism, I guess it would be that I didn’t fully connect with any of the characters. However, I think that’s probably because Lucas and Scarlett were blank slates – they didn’t know who they were (or couldn’t remember) and so part of their character development was figuring out their own personalities as the novel progressed. In other words, the lack of connection to them didn’t matter all that much, because it was kind of the point. There’s this disjointed feeling of ‘otherness’ surrounding the characters, and it only adds to the strangeness of the situation. And strangeness, as I’m sure you’re fed up of hearing by now, is something I bloody adore.

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Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? And do you like weird books as much as I do? I’d love to hear from you! 🙂

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22 responses to “Mini reviews of strange and mysterious books: The Vegetarian, Bright Young Things, and The Leaving

  1. I definitely understand what you mean about writing reviews. I think it’s totally okay to write ‘mini’ ones and give yourself a break ♥ These are great reviews too, Jess! I really wanna read The Vegetarian and The Leaving! I love weird, haha.

    • mudandstars says:

      Aww thanks Lauren 🙂 I love weird too! Do you have any recommendations for more weird books?? I’m always on the lookout. And thanks so much for saying that – I always beat myself up about what I feel I *should* be doing, but you’re absolutely right – it is okay to give myself a break! Hope you enjoy The Vegetarian and The Leaving if you decide to pick them up 🙂 Can’t wait to see what you think. xx

  2. I have to say that I struggled with The Vegetarian – it was an easy reading book with flow but bizarre at times. Enjoyed your review!!

    • mudandstars says:

      Thank you! 🙂 I know exactly what you mean – it was certainly bizarre at times, and I wasn’t always understood what I was reading, even though the writing style was so readable. What do you think it was that you struggled with most about the book? I think I’d like to re-read it at some point, to see what I make of it now I know what to expect.

      • I struggled with the scenes of the art project with the brother in law and think that people with family struggling with mental illness might find this one hard to read. It was a bleak read and I had expected something much different.

      • mudandstars says:

        Yes, I found those scenes quite disturbing. I had no idea what to expect going in, but agree that it was pretty bleak overall. I found it interesting but uncomfortable, if that makes sense.

      • yes – interesting and uncomfortable is definitely a good way to describe it. i read it knowing absolutely nothing about it so found it quite shocking

  3. I admit that weird is not my cup of tea, but creepy OH YEAH, LET’S DO THIS! *–* I simply neeeeeed to read The Leaving, omg! This sounds sooo good! Does its style look like The Unwanted or it isn’t supernatural at all?? THIS SOUNDS AWESOME ANYWAY *–* Great reviews, as always! ❤

    • mudandstars says:

      Aww thank you ❤ Hahaha, creepy books are the best! Hmm well The Leaving isn't very much like The Unwanted unfortunately – it's not really supernatural, and I wouldn't necessarily say it was creepy either (despite the cover) – it's strange, and there's something quite unsettling about the situation, and the fact that none of the abducted kids can remember anything, but it's not really scary. It's more of a thriller mystery than a horror. It was so awesome though – I highly recommend it – if you like mysteries (which I believe you do), this is a very addictive one, and a very unique one! I haven't read anything like it before.

  4. hmm I’m open to weird things, but I’m always sold on beautiful imagery- perhaps I should give it a go!

  5. Oh man I LOVE the look of The Leaving! I’m with you on strangeness in books – the stranger the better! Gimme! xx

    • mudandstars says:

      Yesss, strange books are the best! Do you have any recommendations?? I’m always on the lookout! And I hope you do decide to pick up The Leaving, I found it really addictive 🙂 xx

  6. Hello!!! I’ve actually been wondering about all 3 of these books! I was particularly interested in The Vegetarian even though I had never read the synopsis before… I didn’t realize it was so odd. That suites me just fine though, I love peculiar books 🙂

    • mudandstars says:

      Oooh, that’s handy then haha! 🙂 Yes The Vegetarian was an odd book, but it’s difficult to explain why – it’s kind of surreal, even though all of the things that happen could happen in real life. It was definitely an interesting one! I really hope you’ll give it a go, as I’m desperate to discuss it with someone. I think it would make a really good book-club read. If you like peculiar books, I think you’ll enjoy it 🙂

  7. Lectito says:

    I really enjoyed Bright Young Things and The Leaving! I’m a huge Scarlett Thomas fan. Have you read any of her other books? My favourite is The End of Mr Y.

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