BOOK REVIEW: Dietland by Sarai Walker

This review does not contain spoilers.

Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. Or mocked. Or worse. She works answering fan mail for a popular teen magazine, and is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. Only then can her ‘true life’ as a thin person finally begin.

But when Plum notices she’s being followed by a mysterious woman in colourful tights and combat boots, she finds herself falling down a rabbit hole into the world of Calliope House, a community of women who live life on their own terms. Reluctant but intrigued, Plum agrees to a series of challenges that force her to deal with the real costs of becoming ‘beautiful’. At the same time, a dangerous guerrilla group begins to terrorise a world that mistreats women, and as Plum grapples with her personal struggles, she becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive.

I loved this book. I loved Plum’s personal journey and at times I was pumping my first and cheering at Jennifer’s attempts at gender equality and reversal of rape culture. I say ‘at times’ because I also spent a bit of time with my eyes bugging out at the lengths they took to ensure these things happened.

I will admit that it sometimes feels like a bit of a hot mess when the two storylines collide but, by the end, I feel that Sarai Walker has managed to combine the two things effectively. Even if it hadn’t been effective I would’ve been super into the two different stories. Part Devil Wears Prada, part The Handmaid’s Tale, I am so down for this.

Plum was such a great character to get to know. I want to be her friend. Even when she’s deep in her self-hate headspace I find her compelling and lovable. Her childhood was not at all what I expected but it fits perfectly. I haven’t been obese at any point in my life but I have gone through disordered eating and the way that Sarai Walker writes it is painstakingly familiar. So many times I just wanted to leap through the pages and give Plum a giant hug and tell her it would all be okay.

There was one kind of major issue but I don’t think it will affect everyone. The copy of Dietland that I got from the library had some formatting errors. On pages 150, 225, 237, and possibly one other page that I didn’t note, the writing stops in the middle of a sentence or the middle of a word and just jumps to the next chapter. The first time I thought it was for dramatic effect. The second time I wondered if there was a specific issue because it was occurring right before one of the Jennifer chapters, where the formatting changed completely. But the third time proved me wrong as it occurred between two normal chapters.

I had a quick look at a copy of the book between sessions at the Brisbane Writers Festival and, from what I could see, those errors didn’t seem to be present in the copies they were selling. Maybe the library copy was just an earlier edition and these errors were corrected in a later print run. Whatever the reason, I’m not entirely sure how much I missed when those chapters trailed off so I’ll have to have a closer look and possibly reread a complete copy at some point. Oh, such a shame, having to reread a book I really enjoyed. The INJUSTICE.

 

The verdict

If I were telling you about Dietland in person I would already be shoving it in your hands and making you sit down to read it. But since I’m not standing right next to you I can only strongly suggest that you go and find a copy immediately. The only reason this doesn’t get five stars is because of the sometimes clumsy meshing of storylines, and a tiny bit because the formatting issues made me feel like I was imagining things. This is an incredible debut novel from Sarai Walker and I can’t wait to see what else she has in store.

I rate it ★★★★

 


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