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  • Writer's picturePhoebe Barker

Book review: Hunger by Roxane Gay

I had the pleasure of seeing the exceptional Roxane Gay give a talk at the Southbank Centre in December last year. Here I was temporarily transported to a better world where inclusivity, equality, acceptance and kindness reigned Queen. Her books are vivid and wild, honest and angry, and like nothing I’ve read before.

Hunger is a crushing, exposing, brutal memoir about such a life. The book is about living in a body that often isn’t allowed to ‘fit’. It is a piece of horror and truth, and succeeds in being a beautiful and painful piece of writing. Gay writes about difficult subjects; giving us modern and personal insights into feminism, race, body image and eating disorders. She addresses her own insecurities head on and opens up her own wounds over and over again, for the sake of her writing.

“If I must share my story, I want to do so on my terms… I do not want pity or appreciation or advice. I am not brave or heroic. I am not strong. I am not special. I am one woman who has experienced something countless women have experienced.” (35)

The book is about the human body. She looks at the body in particular relation to fatness and how we, as a collective species, judge this fatness. Reader’s are told a part of Gay’s life story, which is deeply embroiled with trauma and the aftermath of a shocking violation on Gay’s own body. The insight has a rare frankness, and studies the deep tie between our bodies and our minds. The book is about how collective society treats weight and body image, as an object of severe fixation and damaging obsession.

Hunger educates, informs, and importantly, corrects. She shares with us an awareness of cultural bias that is so ingrained into our everyday lives that generally society seems not to notice. She calls out normalities which, now more than ever, should absolutely not be normal.

“I am angry that the fashion industry is completely unwilling to design for a more diverse range of human bodies.” (165)

Gay writes for the change she wants to see in the world.

“That’s a powerful thing, knowing you can reveal yourself to someone.” (181)

The book holds implications for us all. Hunger is unmerciful in its pointed stance on, at times, the most difficult of truths. The Guardian crown her as a “champion of women- especially gay and black women”, which she is, without a doubt. But she should also be the champion of humans, and perhaps more explicitly, human rights.

She understands life, she checks herself and she checks a world filled with hatred and violence and malice every day. She is not afraid to speak her mind, perhaps because she knows she is right. Her words make me want to do everything I can do be the best possible version of myself, to help create a world where everyone is accepted and no one is held back, diminished or hurt. That kind of writing is a powerful tool, and one which I want to keep reading.

“Every body has a story and a history. Here I offer mine with a memoir of my body and my hunger.” (1)
“As a woman, as a fat woman, I am not supposed to take up space. And yet, as a feminist, I am encouraged to believe I can take up space. I live in a contradictory space…” (156)

I share and recommend her books wherever I can, because I strongly believe that all people from all walks of life should be given access to her extraordinary writing.

Hunger goes where few writers dare go. We should thank her for the way she writes, even when it makes us feel uncomfortable. We should thank her for reminding us to check our privileges, because we all have them in some way or another. Lastly, we should thank her for reminding us to remain true to ourselves, regardless of what society might demand otherwise.

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