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Colleen Higgs

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Youth’ Category

8 reasons why I recommend Maya Fowler’s “Elephant in the Room”

The Elephant in the Room
1. As a parent of a girl, this novel makes me think I need to learn more about eating disorders and how they come about. Children can so easily become casualties of their parents’ inability to be present and aware.
2. Fowler takes us into the main character’s, Lily’s mind and body, her inner obsessions about food, eating and her body.
“My body screams for the icing, my mind says no, but its starting to quaver. My mouth waters as I beat the icing. It’s thick and glossy, made with real butter. The sweetness caresses my nostrils, and so does the rich bitterness of the cocoa; and then there’s the salty creaminess of the butter. Mind and body are fighting like mad. My body has transformed itself into a champion wrestler for the occasion. My mind is taking a beating.”
Fowler writes with vivid clarity about Lily’s inner torment, and she shows us the repetitive, circular patterns of Lily’s self destructive cocoon.
3. The style and language in this novel impressed me. So did the sense of place and the details that make Kalk Bay, Plumstead and the Karoo Farm come alive for me as a reader. The sound of the sea and wind, the stone walls of the Kalk Bay house and of the farm house in the Karoo. “Its windy and sand gets stuck in my teeth. I thought it would be a good idea to come out here to my lonely hill, but even the sheep are tucking their heads into their woollen armpits.”
4. We have a new, interesting voice in this young novelist. “The Elephant in the Room” is a strong debut novel and I look forward to reading more of her works.
5. The child’s perspective on family secrets, such as the death of Andre, Lily’s uncle and her grandfather and how their deaths came about.
6. The character of Gesiena, reminds me of characters in many South African farm novels, I loved her and was saddened by her life and her fate.
7. In spite of the tragedy/ies at the heart of the novel, Maya has a light touch, she writes with humour at times, deftly and seamlessly weaving in facts about anorexia, bulimia, butterflies and South African politics, so they are part of Lily’s life and engagement with her world and not the writer imposing her research or views on the reader.
8. As a parent, teacher or someone who knows young people you may be able to identify the early stages of anorexia or bulimia. Lily’s Gran and mother both ignore the signs, which seem to be quite obvious to this reader, in spite of how Lily goes to great lengths to hide her tracks and keep her awful secret.

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