Tuesday, August 8, 2017

HUNGER: an extremely important book by Roxane Gay

It's been a month since I finished Hunger by Roxane Gay.

It has stuck with me the entire time, not a day has gone by where I haven't thought about something within it.

I do not normally do book reviews here on my blog, I do potted reviews of books (and music and tele and film) in my monthly review. It's funny, as a Librarian you'd think I would do more lengthy reviews...

I discovered the author, Roxane Gay, a couple of years ago and immediately loved her honesty and humour. The book was Bad Feminist, a collection of essays about all sorts of things. This is one of my favourite genres of books: the essay. What struck me about Roxane was her incredible intelligence and her amazing gift with words. She just strung a sentence in such a way you knew exactly what she meant, could see what she meant, smell it, feel it. Not many writers do this well. They was no flowery carry on, no pomp, just brisk truth. 

And she was funny.

It's rare to find true comedic writers, and I just soak them in when I do.

But she could turn on a dime, one moment you have tears running down your cheeks from laughing, the next the tears are from crying.

I loved that too.

I spruiked Bad Feminist to everyone I knew.

Not long after, Roxane toured the country promoting that book and I got to see her intellect in full form, writing is one thing, but she spoke as well as she wrote, if not better.

I just loved her, and not least, she was no super model. She was an overweight Haitian, and her attitude was a little bit punk.

I followed her on Twitter, read her other works, and finally got to see her in person this year at the Sydney Writer's Festival.

I was second in line, I waited over half an hour, even though I had purchased a ticket. I managed a seat in the front row of the large area set aside for the talk.

A couple sat next to me, he started, oh my god, she is soooo fat, I mean, she is huge and on it went, not once but on and on. His wife just nodded in agreement. What cunts! We were very close to Roxane, surely she heard it. I was pissed off for her and for myself, being overweight myself. I felt like saying to him, you know we can lose the weight, you will never not be a cunt! Instead I gave him my very best fuck off and die look.

They moved.

Another couple, easily in their 70s, scrambled into their spots, they turned to me beaming, we just got in from seeing her in Melbourne, she's a fucking rock star. I wanted to hug them, these were my people!

Roxane was amazing, she spoke so coherently, with extreme intelligence and super humour. I was mesmerised by such beauty. 

And yet, her face told a whole other story, it was the face of a woman, continually harassed, it looked cranky, tired, done.

I do not blame her.

I knew her 'memoir' was coming out soon and it had huge buzz. I knew it was devastating and would deal with her being gang raped at 12.

So I got to read this amazing book. It defies categorisation. It is part memoir (but only part), it is self help (sort of), it is about health, it is about loving yourself, it is about the world, it is about everyone.

And it broke my heart.

She wrote so many truths within, there were moments like she had dipped into my head and heart and soul and pulled out the very words that have been sitting there unsaid, but most definitely thought.

Whilst her story is not mine, hers is far worse, there were elements of similarity that brought me to my knees.

Her story is she was gang raped at 12 by a group of boys, led by the boy she loved. She told no one and continued (against her better judgement) to spend time with this boy.

She turned to food for comfort and to turn her body into a fort that could not be taken like that again. And so beginning a love/hate relationship with food that has broken her body so badly...but yet not!

Her story is one of the intellectual versus the emotional, she knows intellectually what the deal is, but emotionally cannot reconcile. Or at least that is my interpretation.

And I guess I interpret her words that way from my own experience.

Without making this about me and going into too much detail. As a much thinner and younger girl I received a lot of inappropriate attention from men, mostly via words and touch. And whilst nothing horrid happened to me, I knew it was sexual, and as a young, shy, introspective girl I just didn't know how to handle it. So I slowly put on a bit of weight, but of course that took me from being skinny to curvaceous. This made matters worse.

I had a long term relationship in my 20s, it started wonderfully, but ended quite badly. He was not a nice person, and treated me quite badly. Physically but moreso mentally. I left that relationship a broken person who was so broken they didn't even know they were broken. It took me a good year to realise this, and close to a decade to work through the hurt. 

I was hibernating from life, and unintentionally rebuilding my body into a fort.

I didn't realise this until some years later and well before Roxane articulated it similarly. Although hers was intentional, I had no idea what I was doing, I was just in a big big fog.

In time I pulled myself out of the hole and rebuilt my life and it is divine.

To turn my mind and heart around from that experience was huge, it is my past and 
I have well and truly come to terms with it. But in the meantime, I am still wearing my armour of fat. I no longer need it, but just cannot shake it. 

Like Roxane I try and like Roxane, it is two steps forward and five steps back.

I have not suffered as she has, but I have had my fair share of embarrassment for not being a size 10.

She writes about doctors appointments, going to the gym, buying clothes, having people think they are helping you by offering you advice as if you had no brain in you body at all. Just navigating the world at her size when the world in made for those much smaller is devastating.

People can be arseholes.

It is an important book that everyone should read. To realise those of us who do not have the body of a supermodel are human too, we have needs and thoughts and hearts. The weird looks, the rude comments, and so on and on do not help but only push us back into ourselves.

And what I loved most about her book was she had no solutions, I do not think there are any. Just try and be the best you can, be kind(er) to yourself and to others.

My theory on people is to get to know them, find out their inner workings, love them for who they really are rather than how they look. Cause regardless of size, all our looks are going to fade, or drop or whatever...and then what are we left with?

She writes similarly, about good friends and family and lovers who have helped her in a positive way.

It might be an early call, but I am putting this up there with the books that shaped my life. The Diary of Anne Frank  and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. (The other two are Just Kids by Patti Smith and A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway - but for more artistic reasons).

Roxane's writing has never been finer, just when things are getting too much, she turns things around, sprinkles some humour or adds a lighter touch. There are passages that hurt and make you weep, and passages that make you soar and smile. It is remarkable, and yet, I feel at times she was holding back a little. That there is more to her story. This is not a definitive memoir, so I guess maybe in time we will find out more.

I cannot recommend this amazing book highly enough. Yes, it is rough going at times, but you know what life is rough, we all need to embrace that. But you will learn from this book, and you will be lifted by this book, and you'll fall in love with Roxane a little.

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