Hunger by Roxane Gay – book review

by Elizabeth Heritage / 15 September, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Roxane

Roxane Gay: a life derailed by a horrific childhood event that led her to overeat.

A raw, honest, painful and sometimes frustrating memoir on what it’s like to be fat.

Hunger is a memoir told in bright, searing prose of what a grim prospect it is to be fat. You can’t fit into the seats in restaurants, movie theatres and planes. You can’t buy good clothes. You can’t get anything out of the doctor except “you need to lose weight”, even if you have a sore throat.

You are subject to socially acceptable fat-shaming from strangers, on social media, and even – disguised as concern – from your nearest and dearest. You are trapped in your fat body and in your brain that, influenced by your fat-phobic environment, tells you repeatedly how ugly and repulsive you are.

You believe intellectually in the body-positive movement that says all bodies are good bodies, but it’s not enough. You understand as a feminist that the beauty and diet industries are purveying unattainable standards and self-hatred as a deliberate strategy to extort money from you, but that’s not enough either.

You know you would be healthier if you could love – or at least not actively hate – your body, but that seems every bit as impossible as making your fat body smaller. And you can never, ever get away from it. As Roxane Gay said at this year’s Auckland Writers Festival: “It’s just a shitshow all day every day.”

Hunger is a raw, honest memoir. Gay is a US feminist and critic whose career is going from strength to strength. Her intellect and talents are formidable, and in Hunger she turns them on herself.

Gay writes powerfully about how her life was derailed by a horrific childhood event that led her to overeat and make herself fat as a self-protection strategy. Those actions have had an ongoing and profound effect: “My body is a cage of my own making.”

She speaks candidly about how, even as she understands this cause and effect intellectually, still, every time she starts to lose weight through diet and exercise (which she does repeatedly), some powerful urge kicks in when she gets below a certain weight and makes her overeat again. All her insight cannot fix the chronic after-effects of her trauma or her fraught relationship with food: “What I know and what I feel are two very different things.” It makes for painful and sometimes frustrating reading.

Gay acknowledges this frustration and our thwarted instinct to want a happy ending: “I wish, so very much, that I could write a book about triumphant weight loss and how I learnt to live more effectively with my demons. I wish I could write a book about being at peace and loving myself wholly, at any size. Instead, I have written this book, which has been the most difficult writing experience of my life … Here I am showing you the ferocity of my hunger.”

HUNGER: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay (Constable & Robinson, $35)

This article was first published in the August 12, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

My Brilliant Friend: The HBO adaptation of Elena Ferrante comes to NZ television
99028 2018-11-19 00:00:00Z Television

My Brilliant Friend: The HBO adaptation of Elena F…

by Fiona Rae

A new TV series stars two women in repressed, male-chauvinist Naples and is filmed in Neapolitan.

Read more
If I were a rich man: A grammarian on the nettlesome subjunctive
98551 2018-11-19 00:00:00Z Diversions

If I were a rich man: A grammarian on the nettleso…

by Ray Prebble

Many people find themselves using one or other of these subjunctive forms without really knowing why.

Read more
As China shuts its gates to our plastics and paper, how can NZ stem the tide?
99059 2018-11-19 00:00:00Z Planet

As China shuts its gates to our plastics and paper…

by Veronika Meduna

Unless we get serious about recycling, there’ll be a tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish in the ocean by 2025.

Read more
Heights of contradiction: American and Israeli Jews' complicated relationship
99055 2018-11-18 00:00:00Z World

Heights of contradiction: American and Israeli Jew…

by Todd Pitock

Todd Pitock's travels through Israel reveal the true differences between American and Israeli Jews.

Read more
The Democrat's midterm wins spell the end of Trump's dream run
99105 2018-11-18 00:00:00Z World

The Democrat's midterm wins spell the end of Trump…

by Paul Thomas

Far from being Trump’s near-“complete victory”, the midterms mean opportunities for rigging electoral boundaries have swung back towards the Dems.

Read more
Sally Rooney's Normal People has the makings of a classic
99094 2018-11-18 00:00:00Z Books

Sally Rooney's Normal People has the makings of a …

by Kiran Dass

Normal People is sharply observed portrait of an on-off romance and a book you need to read.

Read more
Why you should avoid 'eating for two' during pregnancy
98747 2018-11-18 00:00:00Z Health

Why you should avoid 'eating for two' during pregn…

by Ruth Nichol

Doubling down on food during pregnancy is out, unless it’s diet quality we’re talking about.

Read more
The long, slow goodbye to Angela Merkel
99173 2018-11-17 00:00:00Z World

The long, slow goodbye to Angela Merkel

by Cathrin Schaer

German Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to leave the job in 2021, but that’s not soon enough for some.

Read more