When I saw this book at the library and read that it was about a “grotesque fat woman getting larger every day”, I immediately thought of Melanie’s quest for fat-positive books which prompted me to bring this one home and read it.
I have to admit that, from the blurb on the back of the book, fat positive messages did not seem likely. But with the description of Mile End as a “chilling and masterful look at the interior landscape of psychosis” I was intrigued.
Mile End is narrated by an unnamed woman. She has a job she’s not passionate about, one good friend whose career is taking off and she’s afraid she is going to lose him, a “boyfriend” who is basically just using her for sex at his convenience, her parents are getting divorced, and she is fat and getting fatter by the day.
Walking, I could feel my damp underclothes, sticking to my skin. It was uncomfortable, but at the same time, I felt guilty, as if I should have kept myself from sweating. My body was out of control, my fat was out of control, and my cape and the huge pieces of fabric in which I draped myself seemed of no use.
Her father (who is a local celebrity) is somewhat estranged from his family, so she hasn’t seen his side of the family since she was very young. But she has a few memories in which they are all fat like her. She feels “displaced” in a world where her mother is skinny and her father is critical of her and ashamed of her fatness, a trait that he himself has been battling his entire life.
For a long time I managed to forget about my body, until recently. I am haunted by the image of my father who seems to be growing fat again on magazine covers, also by my odour which resembles the odour in the impeccable little white house where my father’s family lives. A little house full of big fat people.
As she goes through her days, she becomes more and more distressed about where she comes from and where she belongs, “a tightly wound emotional spring, set to lash out terribly on a world of blind, and therefore tormenting indifference”. The ending really took me by surprise.
Although I’m not planning to analyse the fat messages in this book (I’ll leave that to Melanie!), it’s hard to write about the book without mentioning it at all. I feel as though most of the feelings surrounding the character’s fat are negative – she feels shame and guilt, she feels “weighed down by her body”, she feels as though she carries a lot of things around in her fat such as her passion for life and all the stories of her family’s history. On the other hand, when she goes to visit her father’s family in their little white house, where all the women and some of the men are fat, their fatness seems to be commonplace and accepted. Unfortunately, this part of the book is just a little snippet.
In a scene towards the end of the book, her “boyfriend” decides he wants to slim down and tries to bring her on board with him, but she has no interest. (“I wasn’t interested in being saved.”) Which sounds like it could be a positive thing, until you know how the story ends… in which case you might see it more as foreshadowing.
The narrator also makes many generalizations about fat people throughout the book… “I tell Paul I am typical of fat women. I have put nothing in my mouth but a coffee since morning.”, “I drop food on my dress like fat women always do.”, and “I like winter best. I wrap myself in my capes and I hide my body. All fat people like winter.”.
Melanie, no pressure, but I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say about this book!
Mile End by Lise Tremblay won the 1999 Governor General’s Literary Award for French Fiction.