Stark look at the dark side effects of dieting

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 December, 2002, 12:00am

December is a month of celebrations and the Lunar New Year is not far behind. This is when we party and we eat. But you may be worrying about your weight. Are you? If you are, don't be, and don't go on a diet. Instead, take the time to read the book, Massive, by British writer Julia Bell.

The novel is about an English teenager Carmen, whose mother is obsessive about dieting. On the refrigerator, she sticks a note that reads: 'A Moment On Your Lips, Forever On Your Hips!'

Carmen's mother has meal replacements instead of food.

Her diet book collection rivals that of the town library.

One of her handbooks is full of slogans. From time to time she will open it, smile and then tell herself: 'You are a beautiful person.'

In Mother's opinion, thin is beauty; thin is success; and thin is the power to get what you want. The problem with her idea is that thin does not mean healthy. Carmen's mother 'is sick since her diet', according to her stepfather, grandmother and Aunt Lisa.

The mother develops funny ideas that everybody is turning against her: her husband is in love with his business partner, not her; her sister, Aunt Lisa, must be bad-mouthing about her whenever she speaks to Carmen. But the alarming part is that Carmen herself begins to adopt her mother's mania for thinness.

Massive works on its readers in the same way the world whirls around Carmen. It begins with an ordinary, just-another-day scene in the kitchen. Carmen and her father do not pay much attention to the mother's ravings. Soon unexpected events follow. Carmen is suddenly taken away from her home to Birmingham, a city she does not know.

The reason: 'We can't afford to stand still and I can't afford to stand still,' her mother proclaimed. It is wrenching for the teenager to leave her friends and resettle into a strange place. There are bullies in her new school. Her mother is hyper one minute and becomes deeply depressed the next.

There are great surprises and twists, but then Bell is a writer and tutor based at the University of East Anglia in England, where her creative writing courses are world-renowned.

Publisher: Young Picador, an imprint of Pan Macmillan

ISBN: 0-330-41547-6

Graphic: 0512P4GYO