Book Review: Wasted by Marya Hornbacher

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I don’t think I’ve ever read a book which explores eating disorders in such an honest, clear-cut way.  I constantly found myself nodding and muttering ‘exactly. That’s exactly what it was like for me.’ This book satisfied me, like a good, hot meal after a difficult day. I don’t often find books which leave me feeling completely fulfilled. When I’m enjoying a book, I usually find it’s whizzing past far too fast, but with Wasted, I felt as if every page was a substantial experience in itself. It’s the way Hornbacher writes. She utilizes every word with such efficiency. I repeatedly said aloud to an empty room ‘this woman can write!’

Wasted is the story of Mayra Hornbacher’s experiences with bulimia and anorexia, from the age of four – when she first decided that she was ‘fat’ – to the age of twenty two. Hornbacher leads the reader on a turbulent journey, through one extreme to another. I found myself bowled over by the sheer intelligence of this young woman. (Wasted was published when she was just twenty three). The book is peppered with apt quotes from figures such as Nietzsche and Plath, and lengthy footnotes, which delve deep into the tightly knotted medical history, and reality, of eating disorders.

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I usually thread my reading material with dozens of Post It Notes, but with Wasted, I didn’t use a single one. The original plan was to read it, then keep the experience to myself. But I discovered that I just couldn’t do that. When you come across a stellar writer such as Hornbacher, keeping her work to yourself is simply out of the question. Many autobiographical books on the subject of eating disorders don’t delve too far beneath the surface. Not Wasted though. Hornbacher gets right under the skin of the subject. She talks about the rocky relationship she had with her parents. She talks about the sex with strangers. She talks about drugs and lies and how her bones hurt her. She talks about the deceptive behaviour she adopted and the drains she would frequently block with vomit. She gets her hands bloody and isn’t afraid.
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The first chapter is perhaps one of the most powerful introductions I’ve ever read, partly because, once upon a time, I was that little girl.

‘It was that simple: One minute I was your average nine-year old, shorts and a T-shirt and long brown braids, sitting in the yellow kitchen, watching Brady Bunch reruns, munching on a bag of Fritos, scratching the dog with my foot. The next minute I was walking in a surreal haze I would later compare to the hum induced by speed, out of the kitchen, down the stairs, into the bathroom, shutting the door, putting the toilet seat up, pulling my braids back with one hand, sticking my first two fingers down my throat, and throwing up until I spat blood.’

I remember when I would bury my bare feet in the thick, warm fur of our collie cross springer spaniel. I can remember when it didn’t bother me who saw my feet. They were just feet. But within a number of months, that changed. In a chapter titled Methodist Hospital: Take 1 I found myself linked to her experience too.

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‘The hospitalisations at Methodist have a tendency to blur, one into another, since I was there three times in less than a year. Hospitalizations in general are blurry. The days are the same, precisely the same. Nothing changes. Life melts down to a simple progression of meals. They become a way of life fairly quickly. You used to be a normal girl with a normal life. Now you are a patient, a case, a file full of forms.’

Hornbacher never flinches away from the truth, or sugar coats anything, not even in the last sentence, and for that she has my full and absolute respect.

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