After seeing Roxane Gay on the ABC’s Q&A program, I thought I knew what to expect with her memoir, Hunger. She is renowned as having a fierce intellect, and being a formidable opponent for anyone whose views differed from her own.
In Hunger, that intellect was undoubtedly present, but there was also a surprising fragility to this woman who had always appeared to me to be so self-assured.
In many ways, the book was a difficult one to read. Gay tells of an event which she believes changed the course of her life, in which she was gang raped as a young teen. From then on, she sought to protect herself by closing herself off and making her body a shield around her. She ate for comfort and to make this shield stronger.
Later, her weight became the source of a new battle, as she struggled to live in a world that is hostile to ‘unruly’ bodies. Even when she had achieved great success, she attended events petrified that a chair would be too small.
Gay’s story is one that reveals the complex truth of trauma and its aftermath. She always speaks tenderly of a family who love and support her, but who she couldn’t tell about the worst day of her life that set her on the rest of her life’s trajectory.
It is a book that explores a side of the built environment of which many are unaware – of how it has been designed to accommodate the able bodied of a certain size, but is very difficult to navigate if you don’t fit the mould.
Some readers have found Hunger to be too confronting, particularly the section which recounts Gay’s rape, but while it was difficult, I found it to be an illuminating read that enabled me to confront some of my ignorance and prejudice, and see a different and far more vulnerable side to this impressive woman. It’s a book that I strongly recommend.