“Hunger” – Jackie Morse Kessler

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"Hunger" - Jackie Morse Kessler, a book you can get your teeth into ... haha...you get it? ... By the end of this, you'll be sick of hunger/eating-puns...Consider yourself warned...

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home: her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power — and the courage to battle her own inner demons?

Tackling the increasing adolescent problem of eating disorders has been done with literature many times, but not like this; this it’s a mouth-watering idea (que rim-shot).  An attempt to take on anorexia utilising the mythology of the Horseman of the Apocalypse is a concept never dabbled in before, I can assure you, and it’s a stunning, shocking, and frank look at both the illness, and the allegorical characters. The two subjects are weaved together intricately, when Lisa, our heroine, is given the position of Famine, and thus, the ability to control the world’s hunger. Kessler explores the emotional and psychological factors behind the illness, by introducing her character to a world where people don’t have enough to eat, and the terrible repercussions of malnutrition. Despite it’s thin (boom!) stature, the content of this novel(la?) is actually pretty meaty (haha!), delving into the daily life on an anorexic, and even a bulimic, how it affects relationships and self-esteem, and vise-versa. We start at the lowest point in Lisa’s life, whereby she tries to overdose, and instead receives the scales and stead of Famine. Even then we’re kept on route with Lisa’s natural world, following her throughout her reluctant new career, and her attempts to maintain a “normal” life.

Characters are depicted by the third-person-viewpoint of the protagonist, at war with a world she can’t quite digest (dum-dum-tish), and for this reason readers are shown the difficulties placed on the loved ones of those effected by an eating disorder. Kessler portrays the circumstances surrounding anorexia, the need for control, the lack of self-esteem, and the break-down of familial relationships. Lisa has a boy-friend, an estranged mother, a reassuring bulimic best-friend, and a neglected ex-friend; amazingly, Kessler manages to delve into each on of these threads individually, taking on all aspects of hiding an illness along the way. Characters are realistic, but protagonist centric, and strangely, given the subject matter of the story, this doesn’t hinder the book, only furthers to increase tension, and stress the seriousness of Lisa’s emotional pain. On the flip side, we have the majestic characters, Death and Rage being the most prominent, equipped with their own brand of quirky, and oddly, introducing the satirical elements of the narrative. Death spurts one liners worthy of a brick-wall-backdrop, while Rage engages with another part of Lisa’s persona. They’re an interesting take on the mythos, but we never hear about their personal struggles (I’m told there are sequels to come, involving their rise as deities). In fact, the book could have been a lot thicker, and bitten deeper into the world of the Horsemen, and the gut-wrenching pains of hunger, but instead we are given a few brief, but significant glimpses of life without enough to eat, establishing further Lisa’s confusing complex with food. This both accentuates the protagonists plight, and yet dismisses any true comparison between people who have hunger forced upon them, and those who suffer through it because of an eating disorder. A shame, but not something which really bucks the plot.

The plot is solid, short but to the point, and leading to all the obvious life lessons you would expect, without all the obvious, cheesy (cheesy, ha! You get it? … okay, thus ends the bad food related humour) plot points. I was impressed by an unexpected twist towards the end, which really grounded the severity of the novel’s themes. As someone whose never had to deal with Anorexia, it was an insight into a hidden world, mixed with emotive moral choices, and paranormal elements which reinforced eating disorders as a physiological conditioning. Quick and powerful and gripping.

Did you like this review? Let me know if you think I can do better somehow, or tell me what you thought of this read, in the comments on https://aliceradwell.wordpress.com. 

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