Bookshots: 'Dietland' by Sarai Walker
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Who wrote it?
Sarai Walker (it’s pronounced sa-RAY in case you wondered), journalist and academic. Dietland is her first novel. More info at her website.
Plot in a Box:
Plum Kettle, an agony aunt for a teen mag who is waiting for her life to start after she has her stomach bypass, comes to the attention of the mysterious and sinister ‘Jennifer’ organization. Things do not stay the same after that.
Invent a new title for this book:
(With apologies to Susie Orbach) Fat is a Terrorist Issue
Read this if you liked:
Anything by Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Fay Weldon, Elizabeth Smart.
Oh and a book you may not have heard of called Fight Club.
Meet the book’s lead:
Plum (whose real name is Alicia) Kettle, who starts the novel at 300-and-some pounds and ends it transformed but not an ounce lighter.
Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:
Rebel Wilson (on whom I have a huge lady-crush).
Setting: would you want to live there?
Plum lives in Brooklyn and works in Manhattan, but hers is a world of fat-shamers, women-haters and megalithic media empires where ‘misogyny’ rhymes with ‘money’.
A shark-encircled coral atoll would be preferable, thanks.
What was your favorite sentence?
I couldn’t choose between these two:
Rules don’t interest me.
“They have my husband and child!” she screamed. “Give them all the cock they want!”
A few weeks ago, carefully timed for that moment when we Brits start to think about booking our annual trip to the overcrowded beaches of Greece or Spain, sports nutrition company ‘Protein World’ posted this ad in the London Underground:
A decade ago, this ad wouldn’t so much as lifted a passing commuter’s eyebrow, but things have changed. Irate graffiti started to appear on the posters. Buzzfeed ran a whole article on the phenomenon, but this example sums up the sentiment nicely.
“I am so tired of the message that women have to make some kind of effort in order to be socially acceptable,” explained one woman who, along with a friend, posed in front of the poster in her bikini, to show the world that ‘beach ready’ means ‘wearing a swimsuit’ not ‘half starved and photoshopped.’
Sarai Walker is tired of that message too. In Dietland, Plum Kettle longs to shed weight, to become a slimmer, more socially acceptable version of herself. She doesn’t have enough money for the bariatric surgery she believes she needs, so when a benefactor offers her the cash in exchange for Plum undertaking a series of tasks, she agrees. At the same time, a terrorist organization codenamed ‘Jennifer’ begins to exact horrible revenge on those — from rapists to tabloid editors to porn stars — guilty of crimes against women. The Protein World posters are exactly the kind of target that ‘Jennifer’ would take aim at, except I imagine that in Walker’s world, the marketing wonks who dreamed up the campaign would have found themselves chained in a basement with nothing but finely ground spiders for sustenance, their torment available for mass consumption via hourly updates on YouTube.
Dietland is a savvy rejig of Fight Club — an influence Walker notes in her acknowledgments — only this time it’s the women who are fighting. We live in a world where women’s bodies don’t belong to the people who live in them. They have become a commodity and we measure a women’s value according to how closely her body fits the prevailing norm. Industries worth billions — cosmetic, fashion, porn, media, dietary — have developed to support and exploit that notion. Dietland, like Fight Club, builds on the cornerstone laid by the movie Network. ‘I’m as mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!’ Peter Finch rails, inciting his audience to mass rebellion. Traditionally, women don’t rebel. We reason, we negotiate and we compromise. Like Plum, we try to find a way to fit in. Like Plum, it could be we’re beginning to realize that those efforts are not only pointless, but that body fascism is just Fascism, wearing Prada.
We're as mad as Hell and we're not going to take it anymore. It could be that Dietland is saying that the days of women trying to fit in are over.
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