Following is Angela Long’s review of the 6th and final book shortlisted in the The Stella Prize 2016.
Title: Small Acts of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger
Author: Fiona Wright
Publisher: Giramondo Publishing 2015
Angela’s Review: Eating, the consumption of food, should be a guilt free process, but in today’s western society, few people—men or women—could say they have never had guilt, obsession or dietary restraint associated with eating. We live in a culture where food messages are constantly fed to us. Where the latest fad diet, super-food or reality TV show, pinpoints our focus on the relationship we have with the primary substance that gives us life.
In her series of ten essays, Fiona Wright explores and reflects on her personal experiences with hunger, starvation and anorexia. Each essay deals with an aspect of her journey, including the physical and psychological signs and effects as well as the societal values that define and segregate. Although this is not a memoir the essays are intensely personal; facts and figures sitting in the shadow of the reflections and intimate understanding that makes this such a readable piece of writing.
Fiona’s relationship with hunger seemed to begin with a rare physical condition – her body’s rejection of certain types of basic foods, where she would involuntarily regurgitate what she had eaten. Under doctor’s instruction, she began eliminating items every time she had a reaction, giving a list of reasons to friends and peers, such as she was vegetarian or had a gluten allergy. Eventually her list was so reduced that it was easier not to eat. Ironically, this self-control gave a sense of power and leanness to her life; it defined who she was; and that inevitably became one of the hurdles to her recovery.
How can anyone reconcile the deliberate starvation of oneself against those who have no choice? In Australia Fiona’s disease, her hunger, made her wasteful “Eat a hamburger you bitch” being screamed at her by a passing car. She felt that “distance could defeat disease” and moved to India where hunger was prevalent and she was one of the lucky ones. Yet the same symptoms and rituals followed her. She threw away food that she knew could do so much for others. She was starving by choice. On her return to Australia she didn’t fit in, she was separated and outcast by the social rituals of eating; and the less she participated, the less reason there was to eat. She found it easier to disappear “all the while, I shrank. And I shrank away as well.”
Eating disorders, especially anorexia, are often associated with vanity, however studies have shown that both men and women who suffer these debilitating diseases ‘think too much and feel too keenly’ … ‘people who like definition and delineation, who like clarity and knowing where they stand’. The patterns and physical effects that Fiona’s eating disorder had bestowed upon her, were the same ones attributed to anorexia. Hunger crept up on her, anorexia crept up on her and so to did her acknowledgement of the disease. Eventually she was forced to reconcile that she was ‘one of them’.
This however is not a study of anorexia alone. Fiona’s hunger made her smaller but she was only one of millions of people who are, or have been, so deprived of food that they are starving. These essays focus on what it is to want to starve, to be starving, and the journey to reverse the patterns in a society that worships the thin and fixates on food. The language of dieting and food –full cream instead of normal milk; junk food instead of fun food, the Facebook posts declaring the five foods we should never eat. The links and anxieties that the mind creates, and the lack of understanding and help for the ever increasing numbers of sufferers. This is powerful writing but not overbearing or bossy, in fact there is a resigned sadness that permeates much of it. An important read for those who would like eating to become a pleasurable norm of our everyday life.
For more information please visit Giramondo Publishing
2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge: This book has been read and reviewed by Angela Long for Welcome to my Library for the 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
For more information please see their website ‘Supporting and promoting books by Australian women’