Review #6 - Midnight Feast' by Martina Evans (1998)
First of all, I need to say that I found it really hard to begin writing this review, not because I didn't like the book - I did - it's just not left a clear impression on a lot of things. But then I started writing and realised that the novel was much more than it seemed on the surface. Don't get me wrong: it definitely has a lot of problems, but it does deserve a more in depth view. So much so that rather than create a novella reviewing it I have left some questions at the end for further discussion.
Synopsis: Grace begins a stint as a pupil at an Irish convent school in 1977. There she meets Colette, a very thin, rebellious troublemaker and her more sensible friend Trish. Grace immediately gets a strong girl crush on Colette, which develops during the first half of the book until it almost touches on a full lesbian relationship, but with Grace not actually being gay/bi, she freaks out at anything more physical. Eventually, under Colette's direction, Grace makes a pact with her to lose weight and get thin, which they do until they are sent to hospital. (I won't say any more as I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't read it yet!)I chose this book specifically to read after Letting Ana Go, because they both depict an 'ana buddy' relationship, but with different outcomes.
I've seen some reviews saying that the authors style was very disjointed and that she couldn't write dialogue properly (GoodReads), but I have to say that I disagree entirely with that view and that the writing style is probably the book's greatest strength. Having said that though, if you can't understand Irish slang or hear a thick southern Irish accent in your head when reading, it most likely will be difficult to get in to and interfere with your flow of reading. (In the same way that if you can't hear a Scottish accent in your head then there's probably no point in trying to read anything by Irvine Welsh.) Nevertheless, I really like this colloquial style as by using the Irish patter it brought the words to life and made the story more real to me. What else did I like? Well, I enjoyed the story (except the ending, but more on that in a minute) as it was a different take on the usual ED by numbers or memoir book and posed a lot of questions for me. I did want to keep reading, to find out what happened, so it held my attention and I didn't want to skip ahead as I did with Letting Ana Go.
However (and this is a big however) the book is not without it's faults and some of them are fairly detrimental. It is a book of many contradictions and left turns, as though the author wasn't sure of the direction of the plot herself. Or maybe she changed her mind about the ending and re-wrote it. Grace arrives at the school as an honours student but promptly abandons her study to read novels during class. Under the nun's strict rule simply being Colette's friend marks her out as a troublemaker, but in reality she isn't. She always follows rather than instigates and doesn't try to bring anyone else down with her.
Grace is besotted with Colette, but Colette is not a 'likeable' person - exciting and dangerous, yes, but not someone to trust as a friend. I find her selfish, as spiky as her collar bones, desperately seeking attention and goes about getting it by being mean, disruptive and purposely upsetting. She's very similar to Lisa in 'Girl, Interrupted'; she's very sociopathic and thrives on conflict. If she's not making snide comments about others she's bothering the nuns and passive/aggressive-ly bullying Grace and Trish into doing what she wants.
Another contradiction: for a book about eating disorder's there is surprisingly little detail. It doesn't describe a singe weight, or pin-point how thin they actually got. They were just frog-marched off to hospital. It doesn't really specify whether the girls are bulimic or anorexic, we are left to figure that out ourselves. I would say that Colette was a proud bulimic, whereas Grace is a reluctant bulimarexic. It is important to stress that this book was set in late 1970s Ireland and that the only available treatment for eating disorders was re-feeding. Both Grace and Colette were admitted to hospital as anorexic, but we know better. Colette would b/p, starve, b/p etc. whilst Grace would (originally) just restrict. Colette had tried to teach her how to purge but she didn't 'master' that until she was released, fat after re-feeding, that she got into the cycle of starve, eat normally, purge. What is described in more detail is the effects of what they did.
And then there's Johnny, Colette's brother. Grace has a crush on him, daydreams about him, but when she has the opportunity to have him she rejects him. She's frightened by him - he is said to be mad, and certainly takes dangerous drugs, but it is never really confirmed if he really is insane or not. He's certainly sick (he was inpatient for a time), but it isn't clear if he is responsible for what happened at the end or not. And the ending?! God, where do I start with the ending? While Colette's story is wound up satisfactorily, the author sets up a very exciting denouement involving Johnny and then completely u-turns for what is really a damp squib. I wish she'd had the guts to go with the drama she'd hinted at and given Grace a chance to save the day and stop being a passenger in her own story.
And this, I guess is the crux of the issue with this book. Grace is a weak character, buffeted from one happening to another, being bounced around by stronger characters. She lets her mother, her cousin Delia, Colette and the nuns walk all over her. Without Colette, Grace is uninteresting. Grace needs to grow into herself and become a leader in order to get out of her disorder and extricate her life from Colette. It's weird, because the more I wrote about this book, the more I realised there was to write. 3.5/5
What do you think of Grace's relationship with her family?
What do you think the author thought about the religious/convent schools of her youth?
How did the nun's beliefs and behaviours unintentionally enable or nurture EDs in their institutions?
Is Sister Carmel the surrogate mother Grace wanted/needed?
What do you think is the point of the character of Delia?
How do you think the author should have ended it?
Why do you think the author titled the book after something that happened right at the final moments? Is it a misleading title?