I have never met a woman who has not struggled with her weight. I have also never met a woman who does not enjoy sharing someone else’s misery. It makes us feel a little less less. Hope for that feeling led me to My mad fat diary. I did not realize when I chose it that it had been published in the UK several years ago and was a hit television show. The first US edition appeared just this spring from St. Martin’s.
The diary begins with a glossary of British slang and jumps into Rae Earl’s life just after she was released from a psychiatric ward for having “lost the plot.” She has women’s problems, is working on four A levels, is really fat, and wants to be loved. In the midst of these personal details is a bit of gossip about a friend who is pregnant. That is largely how the diary flows. Sadness and struggles against sadness, small notes about poverty (she is a scholarship student at a private girls’ school), complaints about her classes and teachers, details about what she has eaten, complaints about her weight and how her clothes fit, and gossip.
Rae’s friend Bethany is toxic. She undermines Rae’s confidence with snarky comments. She talks about her behind her back. She goes after the boys Rae likes. She monitors what Rae eats. When Rae finally realizes this, I felt more relieved than her friends likely did.
When Rae starts going “down the pub,” she makes new friends, including some guys from the boys’ school on whom she crushes in turns. She and a friend give them code names, like Battered Sausage, Haddock, Fig, and Dobber (a girl). Dobber becomes a good friend and Haddock teaches Rae life lessons about judging a book by its cover. Rae drinks and eats, fights with her mom, and offers regular commentary about her mom’s love life. Rae reveals her compulsive behavior–checking and rechecking the household appliances. She is very open about her desire to lose her virginity.
Rae shows her vulnerability, after all, it’s her diary, but takes awhile to confess the sarcastic wit she uses on her friends to create a social shield. She reveals that she is nearly as mean to her friends as they are to her. She feels bad about these comments, but does not reflect that maybe these comments make her friends as miserable as they make her until she makes Haddock cry and he avoids her for days.
About halfway through the diary, I was losing patience with Rae. She was mean and lazy. She did not help her mom around the house. She was only able to hold a job for a couple of weeks. She knew she needed to eat less and exercise more, but she did neither. If I hadn’t agreed to write a review, I might not have persisted.
And then I found myself looking forward to opening the diary. About this time Rae admitted to her sarcastic humor and began realizing she judged others much as others were judging her.
The diary ended abruptly, but it is only one volume of Rae’s teenage diaries. I wonder how a younger woman would read the diary. Would she have more patience for Rae’s teenage moods or would she be alienated by the 80s references–the trips to the pay phone among them. I hope the television adaptation makes it way across the pond, also.
Thanks to Net Galley and St. Martin’s Press for providing an advance review copy of the diary.