Perhaps it’s just me but naming the main character ‘Anna’ in a story about an anorexic seems tone-deaf…
Yara Zgheib’s novel, The Girls at 17 Swann Street, focuses on a small treatment facility for women with eating disorders and in particular, Anna, an ex-ballerina.
Anorexia is the same story told every time by a different girl.
I chose this book because of the mental health angle. I find the pathology of eating disorders interesting and to a certain extent, Anna provided insight –
Eventually, I also stopped searching. And dairy, and answering my phone. And wearing makeup, but at least I was not fat anymore.
The story highlighted the fact that eating disorders are not purely the domain of teenage girls. Anna is in her twenties and married to Matthias – before she became unwell, they were hoping to have a baby.
Despite the interesting perspective, the book fell short for a number of reasons. Firstly, the opportunity to explore Matthias’s own guilt and complicity in Anna’s condition was skimmed over. Matthias felt partially responsible for Anna’s situation and while logically one might take the view that the person with an eating disorder is ultimately the one deciding what they do or don’t put in their mouth, it is inevitable that family and friends question their role in the situation.
And so she ate nothing and they both ate lies through three years of marriage, for peace, at the occasional cost of no more roller coasters, no more sharing ice cream and French fries.
Secondly, Anna’s recovery progresses relatively quickly and smoothly – the focus is on her calorie intake and changed behaviour at the dinner table, as opposed to the psychological (which is problematic given that anorexia and bulimia are mental disorders with a physical manifestation).
Lastly, the ‘creative’ approach to punctuation – grrrr. I’m not a pedant but the lack of punctuation in this book was irritating and detracted from the scenes where there was dialogue.
I received my copy of The Girls at 17 Swann Street from the publisher, St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Before she became ill, Anna’s specialty was Sacher Torte.