What piqued my interest was a description of the book as “Bridget Jones’ Diary meets Fight Club.” Yes, yes, I like both of those things. Then, the book opens by quoting Lewis Carroll at me. Another good sign. This was like the unicorn of books, maybe.
What is this mythical mash-up? Sarai Walker’s Dietland, whose marketing description reads:
The diet revolution is here. And it’s armed.
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. With her job answering fan mail for a popular teen girls’ magazine, she 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 colorful 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 guerilla group begins to terrorize a world that mistreats women, and as Plum grapples with her own personal struggles, she becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive.
Part coming-of-age story, part revenge fantasy, Dietland is a bold, original, and funny debut novel that takes on the beauty industry, gender inequality, and our weight loss obsession—from the inside out, and with fists flying.
Does it hold up to the parentage of Bridget Jones and Fight Club? There is much less of the former and more of the latter.
The part it pulls from Bridge Jones is the calorie-counting obsession, the relentless aim to be more shaggable; but what it’s not is a romantic comedy. There is no love triangle here–well, not the traditional one anyway. There is some of the quirky, character-based humor. And there are loads of women coming to terms with their beauty, their bodies, and their worth.
So what does it get from Fight Club? A satire of society and a subversion of its expectations. So much of the body obsession gets uprooted and pulverized by the end. It is cathartic. As Plum went through her transformation of body image and uncovered the myriad paradoxes and harms of the expectations on women to be sexually attractive and available, I found myself learning some of the same lessons in a deeply personal way. This is a book that looks squarely at gender identity, beauty standards, and rape culture and skewers it.
While the Bridget Jones’ Diary+Fight Club equation works to capture Dietland, I found myself making another comparison throughout. This book read like an Amy Schumer skit, specifically calling to mind “Last F**kable Day” and “12 Angry Men.” Paradoxically dark and light, humorous and dramatic, awkward and graceful, painful and healing.
It also helped to answer a question raised by the comic book Bitch Planet: what is a gender terrorist (and how can I become one)? If that question intrigues you, look into Dietland.