Hazel McHaffie

Laurie Halse Anderson

Novel number 9?

Several people have independently asked me this week where I’m at with novel number 9. Well, the short answer is: I’m still researching the topic – part time at that, because I mustn’t be deflected too far from the necessary task of promoting Over my Dead Body at the moment.

Truth is, most of this background work isn’t exciting enough to anyone else to report it. Goodness, some of it is even tedious for me, as I confessed last November! However, I like to focus on the positive and this week I discovered another gem that has given me new impetus.

Books about anorexiaRemember this shelf of novels I had to plough through? Well, one of them: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, has restored my faith in authors who write about eating disorders.

The storyline is pretty much the same as all the others. Lia is 18. She’s anorexic. She’s watched her parents split up. She has an ambivalent relationship with her stepmother. She constantly fights the urge to eat. She has a grossly distorted body image. Yawn, yawn. All horribly familiar.

But in Lia’s case there’s an added dimension: she’s consumed by guilt. Not because she’s stick thin and disobeying all the injunctions of her psychiatrist – no. Rather because, before she died, her ex-best friend and fellow anorexic, Cassie, tried 33 times to speak to her, increasing desperation screaming through the messages she left. But Lia refused to answer. And now Cassie has been found dead in a sleazy motel room. Alone.

So why did this book appeal? Lia’s teenage voice is authentic and engaging without the all-too-common patronising undertones. Her mental troubles are captured sensitively. She’s a haunted soul, and Anderson has managed to convey the devastating effect of such a situation without moralising or lecturing. All making us want to know why Lia ignored the pleas, how Cassie died, whether Lia will survive the trauma.

Also the writing is in a different league.

‘She’s still learning how to pick her way through the bombed-out countryside that lies between her stepmess and the mythological Wife Number One.’

‘I go up two flights and tiptoe across the polished floor of her bedroom, sloooooowly turn the doorknob, and open her bathroom door a crack. A breath of steam trickles out, filled with the sobs of a grown woman breaking into girl-sized pieces. I close the door.’

Furthermore, the author employs some simple but effective techniques which appealed to me. Scratching out the narrator’s thoughts shrieks at us/lets us know what the ‘nasty voices‘ in her head are telling her /Lia really thinks, or would say if she dared. Repetition of the haunting reality of Cassie’s death keeps Lia’s preoccupation centre stage.

… she called.

thirty three times.

you didn’t answer.

body found in motel room, alone.

you killed her.

I was beginning to lose the will to live/wonder if I’d made the right choice of subject for the next book. Wintergirls has made me believe in the possibility again. Onwards and upwards!

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