Dietland by Sarai Walker

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Dietland. I have so much to say.

I had heard of Dietland a long while ago, but for some reason I thought it was just a novel about a woman losing weight and I didn’t give it much attention. I only recently picked it up because Andi gave a really fantastic blurb of it over on Book Riot, and I immediately borrowed it on Overdrive.

Plum is overweight, and has been her whole life. She’s in her thirties now, working from home for a teen magazine where she’s an advice columnist of sorts (though her writing is never published, and she writes as Kitty, the magazine’s editor). Plum avoids socializing, and avoids being in public where she can feel people staring at her and saying horrible things about her size. She has a weight loss surgery planned and is purchasing clothes for her new skinny self, when her “real life” can begin. One day she notices a girl following her, and that leads to her falling down a rabbit hole of self-discovery, feminism, and international terror as men are suddenly held accountable for the way women are viewed and treated in society.

There is SO much I loved about this book. I was enjoying it well enough for the first quarter, when you’re getting to know Plum and trying to figure out who this girl is that’s been following her. Plum’s body image issues are intense, but I think relatable for most women who have ever tried to diet – the constant thinking about food, the adding up of calories, the doubt and guilt and hunger. And then came probably my favorite part of the book, in which there’s kind of a news report about a kidnapping and how the kidnappers don’t want money – they want naked men to replace naked women in newspapers and magazines. That piece was hilarious, insightful, and a bit satisfying. I mean, not that I want anyone hurt or kidnapped… but something that forces such a complete reversal of roles and exposes what life is like as a female… I’d love to see that. “The default Londoner, the implied viewer of everything, was no longer male.” Perfect. I really loved the different current event updates throughout the book.

I won’t go into spoilers, but the rest of the Plum’s journey and the discovery of what is actually happening in the world is great and entertaining, although it ended a bit abruptly. I’m hoping that’s so that there is room for a sequel, which I would read in a heartbeat. However, there are two main things that would keep me from 100% loving this book.

This excerpt is from a bit where Plum is watching TV, and on this news show they’re discussing how the CEO of the 24-hour TV music channel American HipHop had been threatened and that in response they would no longer show videos that degraded women:

“Commentators wondered what the channel was going to show instead, since all day long it was bitch this, bitch that and there was an endless supply of booty moving through space like smooth brown planets. Cheryl Crane-Murphy and her roundtable of experts wondered if the station would go bankrupt. I turned the channel to American HipHop and saw they were broadcasting a test pattern with a message on the screen reading WE APOLOGIZE FOR THIS INTERRUPTION TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING.”

I don’t think I need to explain the racism that goes into saying that a hip-hop music channel has literally nothing to play that doesn’t degrade women. The situation here is strange, because it seems like commentators are voicing some opinion but some of the opinion and phrasing there seems to be from Plum herself. Either way, it’s all coming from the author and it’s extremely careless to make this broad assumption about hip hop music – something I’m guessing she doesn’t listen to herself. I feel very not okay with this section.

The second thing that gave me pause was near the end, in which Plum is responding to an email from a young adult female (18 or 19) who is an A-cup and thinking about getting breast implants. Plum, now more confident and experiencing the anger that comes with being awoken to feminism and cultural body image issues, responds back with a long imaginary scenario in which the girl gets breast implants and her life is ruined. Maybe this is showing how much more Plum has to grow, which could be explored more in a sequel novel. But by itself, this was judgmental and ridiculous. In most situations my opinion is that breast enhancement surgery is a bad idea, but I also think that women can make these choices themselves and that as long as they are completely comfortable making that choice, then they should go for it. I also really hate it when people use fear tactics, which is what Plum did here (don’t even get me started on Go Ask Alice, that lousy book that ends up on teen reading lists to scare kids away from drugs).

Anyways, so Dietland has its flaws but I did really like it and would recommend it to others. I saw something about it being optioned for TV, and I would watch the shit out of this. I want more books about feminists going on the offensive – maybe not quite as radically, but I admit I would really enjoy seeing a secret group of feminists forcing the media industry to play by different rules and inflicting some vigilante justice on rapists. *shrugs* Here’s to hoping for a sequel!

~Sarah

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8 comments

  1. “Booty like smooth brown planets” is — that is not great. Though I admit that I tend to have fairly low patience for satirical novels like this. I think a pamphlet is the correct length for a satire, and when you go longer than that, it tends to flag pretty quickly, at least for me.

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    1. I love satirical novels that have a really biting social commentary, and this definitely fell into that category. But that HipHop channel bit just killed me… what the fuck. I don’t want to meet many authors (because I wouldn’t even know what to say except “you’re so great!”) but I kind of want to meet Sarai Walker so I can pick her brain a bit on these questionable parts of the book. I really want to know how she thought that was acceptable.

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    1. The downsides are a big problem… but I really loved the radical feminist parts of it. Like a lot. And I would totally read a sequel if she wrote one (hoping she corrected some of those things I had issues with).

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