So if this book is how not to be a woman then the concept is really hammered home on a physical and mental level. Her take on aversion therapy (from watching 42 movies one Christmas in her teen years instead of socialising and challenging her fears of human interaction) is most focused on sex and the body. Much of her esteem issues could carefully be interwoven with an Atwoodianesq woman. Liz unintentionally apes Margaret’s female dystopia with the desperate control over food as a form of power. This mainly focuses on her daily intake of a ‘Neal’s Yard peanut butter sample’ as a shining example of obsession; especially when it leads to her temporarily losing sight, categorically refusing any ‘hot liquids’ and, at her lowest ebb, spending 6 months in a clinic (where she reached her highest weight, 8 stone). The best example of her ability to be outside her body looking in (so commonly found in Atwood novels like Surfacing, The Edible Body and Lady Oracle) is best remonstrated by humiliation Liz holds on to so tightly from her teen hood. This is when her aunt makes a ‘homage’ to Liz at a village fete depicting her as the Mona Lisa by using a tampon box (supposedly smelling of crisps) and Liz very distantly noting: ‘there I was on display – a giant sanitary towel.’
As with her body, the separation between Liz and the public (men especially) is intensified by the sexual invasion of her peers at age 10, when she is attacked by a gaggle of her male classmates. This incident further manifests in a a metaphorical version of vivisection towards her body. Like Atwood’s unnamed narrator in Surfacing, who desperately wants to believe she has a body without a neck, meaning she would never be able to look disdainfully at her body again, and Liz expresses euphoric glee at having a breast reduction, aged 29 (a surgical producure that came about because of her breasts rapidly growing via the steroids she was prescribed because of her anorexia). Perhaps again we are led down the pity party route, especially when Liz recounts a temporarily diversion into modelling, designed to fundamentally enter fashion via the front door only to be told by a casting director her skin was ‘weeping’. Without bravado, Liz simply ends this unimaginable humiliation with a simple degree of acceptance: ‘Within a few minutes, so was I.’ This heart of glass confessional style means the reader can fully and hear her heart chipping, cracking, concaving, collapsing; and finally shattering, over and over, again and again
Relationships – much of which frames her later career success are almost too invasive to note. Frigid, she refuses her first offer of sex, and upon the second discovers she is ‘unenterable’ (it takes year for her to realise this was based on an absence of fourplay). All of this is typically Atwoodesq. Deeply, deeply open Liz exhibits no qualms or fear of mockery when she admits her hymen was broken by a doctor at the age of 26, midway through probing her about her anorexia. The sterility of the image knows no bounds. Her virginity is finally lost at 32 (although she said she was 26 to the guy in question, and in a previous article she mentioned this happened when she was in her late thirties; sadly this is not the only obvious error made by a disappointing degree of fact checking). The rich tapestry of relentless pain is fully finalised by her recounting of the blood on the sheets to which her lover believes, rather repugnantly is her menstrual blood. As the reader is only too aware, Liz’s periods were few and far between, so maybe this inclusion is another example of subtle irony on her part at this great turning point in her life. Perhaps because we believe so much in the importance of maintaining our dignity at all costs, we can’t see that she owns her failures in the end. This is just one sexual faux-pax Liz happily volunteers, in a wry humour not always picked up, but undoubtedly there. Controversy, when genuine is just as exciting to read. Her ultimate piece-de-resistance is when she admits to stealing sperm for her ‘coffee coloured baby,’ only to then somewhat counteract the concept by admitting she only dated men of ethnic origin because no white man would.
A writer of pithy, self-depreciation, her career is safely embedded along with her obsessive observations. The Evening Standard Queen-Mum-in-Hospital episode was rather amusing and her Marie Claire confessions are deliciously filled with barely-suppressed malice. Renee Zellweger, fresh from playing Bridget Jones was dismissed as emaciated and joyless. Jones wryly notes that part of Zellweger’s reticence was the rather bitchy review of Sarah Michelle Gellar from a previous issue denoting that ‘her voice was almost as thin as her West Coast body.’ Touche, Mrs (Liz) Jones.
The ending of this disjointed but multifaceted tale of caution is suitably icy and unnerving. Temporarily contemplating suicide when she is driving late at night, under the myriad of debts, fears and uncertainty, she muses on the remains of her days ahead. Although I can see she is perceived – deemed, in fact unlovable in a variety of ways, I see her as lost, perpetually in fact.
Having completed the book I found an article in the Mail where a book signing in Kensington was posted. The comments remained positively baffled that anyone would want to see her. Knowing her disdain for men, I passed. But I hope one person went, and told her she was appreciated… or at least one can hope. To end, I’ll leave you on Liz’s final rousing words: all those years of trying to make it, to be better than I am; years I have always and only even counted in column inches.
How right she is.
Another review of Liz in print: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n17/jenny-diski/diary