on 13 February 2011
This is a full fat page turner for all aficionados of the subject - not of the genre, mind, because this is another book which is perhaps (so far anyway) one of a kind; a novel with not just a fat character, or a nod in the direction of a fat issue, but from top to bottom and start to finish a fat novel. And what's more, a cracking good yarn crafted with talent and told with flair. A book to gobble up and swallow in just a few quick gulps!
First off we meet David, scientist and creep with an over-expensive lifestyle, who during stints in the lab with real rats, happens upon that holy grail, the diet pill. Enter Marina, upwardly mobile advertising executive, her glass ceiling her own body mass. Followed by Susie, her since-childhood friend, who is slim and only ever calls Marina by her nickname 'moo cow'! In due course Susie's own bizarre secret for staying slim emerges in the midst of a highly entertaining plot line. Meanwhile, on our first night in with Marina we accompany her on a terrible, true to life eating binge. The characters are in a sense stereotypical, but only in the sense that, often anyway, cliches arise because they're true. These characters are far from cardboard and come with enough behaviourial analysis and sketching of family history, relationships and employment to be plausible.
Marina's preoccupation with weight and food established, she sees an ad for a size acceptance group, 5F - Fat Feminists Fighting the Flab Fascists. Off she goes and meets redoubtable Gail, larger than life founder of 5F. Through friend Susie, Marina meets scientist David. David hears about 5F and concludes that the 5F women, in his estimation "overweight with stable eating patterns", are ideal for his trial of the new drug - oxymetabulin - which for his survival,must succeed.
The plot thickens with the introduction of Marina's colleagues - Andy, the snake in the grass, who twice stabs her in the back before she screws him...and he gets his due come-uppance in an advertising stunt that goes badly wrong in a hugely comic piece of writing; Rick the boss, schoolboy friend of Andy, dithering in a midlife crisis; Paul the client and nice guy who is duped but ultimately comes out on top.
Among the 5F circle is Teresa - for years married to Rod, a true FA, - who loses her beloved through not believing that he really does prefer her well covered; and Emma, Gail's friend with a nasty history of family dysfunction.
These are the hares set running and their paths cross and intertwine with unfolding drama, suspense, insight, and comedy. At centre stage Marina's fortunes rise and fall with the ebb and flow of her alternating weight loss/weight gain/weight loss...in her relationships as well as her working and family life. Through the roller coaster course of events and emotions, webs of deceit are spun and unspun, shenanigans galore occur in three different countries, there are meteoric collisions, great denouements of plots; all the while suffused with observations and conversations about size, dieting and fat phobic society.
This is clearly a book by someone who understands many of the issues through firsthand experience and the overall attitude that comes through is right headed. This story though is very food centred and characters gain weight only through "over eating". They are driven to excess eating through various personal difficulties and pressures, not least the pressure to conform. At one point Marina, freed from her appetite through the drug (or is it the placebo?) tellingly realises that she has actually traded one problem for another, for now that she is no longer shovelling food in she has lost her accustomed way of dealing with her personal problems. But people are `overweight' (in the language of the book) for many reasons. Clearly there is a psychology of weight gain, and the book is strong on this; there is however, also a physiology of weight gain, i.e. big people who are that way not because of head issues, nor essentially on account of what they eat. (Only certain dietitians, of the fascist persuasion, cling to the mistaken mantra that `if you eat less you must lose weight' - for certain people this means either living on a starvation diet, or damaging the rest of their health, or in any case entering an unsustainable regime doomed to ultimate failure, for biological reasons.) On one occasion, when Marina challenges Gail and asks why, if she has overcome the psychological reason for over eating she is still overweight, the author skirts this other reason for fat, but Gail's answer is that she is still fat because she is no longer oppressed by society's expectations, and eats what she wants. In a holistic work one would have to point to this as a major omission, but in fairness this is not what the author has set out to create, so all that can be said is that this is perhaps a limitation of the book, rather than a shortcoming.
Sometimes we see a certain amount of bitterness within size acceptance ranks regarding who is and isn't fat and consequently qualified to be a legitimate size activist. The author understands that notwithstanding the real differenc between someone 1 stone above norm and someone 10 stone above norm, people can be as miserable in either situation, depending on their own attitude, perceptions and experience. Her own experience of weight gain has been through the psychological route, something which after 25 years of struggle she has overcome. Along the way she has learnt a lot about fat oppression in general. It was her intention to offer readers with a similar background the experience of feeling less isolated (as well as to entertain!) and doubtless, for the right readers, through this book she will.