I picked Eat My Heart Out by Zoe Pilger up in Foyles in Westfield about three years ago. I was in my first year of university and thought I’d actually have time to read it. The cover was what attracted me and the blurb mentioned a foul-mouthed feminist so I thought it was right up my street but when I actually read it I wasn’t convinced.
This is probably one of the darkest books I have ever read (and I’ve read Lolita and a lot of crime novels). The humour (is it meant to be humour?) is so incredibly dark and brings to light really terrible things like a lot of rape. I stopped reading it. I gave it another try and finished it over three days.
It is just as much an uncomfortable read now as it was then but if you persevere to about halfway you begin to realise why.
The literature of Eat My Heart Out itself is okay, it’s not trying to be sophisticated, it’s trying to be frank like the protagonist. The plot is fragmented which is something I absolutely hate in a novel, I need smooth transitioning and a little description which this book has none of except to be deliberately ugly.
Zoe Pilger shows us, in sharp and fragmented scenes, the current female condition and, like I said, to ensure that you get it, she makes the protagonist go through it as well when feminist writer Stephanie puts her through her paces and makes her do opposing menial tasks of women.
I think Eat My Heart Out is a bad book but it’s also trying really hard to tell us something. We think it’s bad because it makes us uncomfortable to read what we have become. Feminists before us used to fight for freedoms and now we have a surplus of it and are trying so hard to be everything rather than excelling at a few things. We used to sacrifice careers for men, now we sacrifice men for careers but chase after them desperately in our free time just because we have needs that need to be met, after all. We are housewives but for ourselves and don’t know if its more empowering to be virginal or a ‘whore’ as Pilger puts it.
Despite understanding what Eat My Heart Out is about and acknowledging its intelligence, nothing about it was particularly enjoyable and I think this is because it comes from such a place of privilege. Everyone in this book is a rich twenty something from London in their fancy houses with their petty hobbies of art and no one really works. They’re all mental and spoiled and actual arseholes. It feels a lot like the protagonist is just confused and complaining in general but it isn’t endearing for me because I can’t relate to her background or her whimsical nature– sure women have it hard but come on, get up, go to work, pay for your rent and your bills instead of depending on someone else, write and do your own thing in your own time, it’s not ideal but it’s what the rest of us do?
But then, maybe, in some sort of reflective Marxian way, Pilger intended for us to hate the protagonist because she so hopelessly represents the current female condition and she wants us to see it as ugly so we stop reinforcing it?
Equally, if I gave every strange book the benefit of the doubt, crediting it as misunderstood genius then there’d be no shit books. Sometimes books are just bad.
I am so undecided about Eat My Heart Out; I think if you’re a new feminist or an intelligent person, female or otherwise, you should read this if you have nothing else to read. And then come here and tell me what’s going on…
Basically I gave it one star on Goodreads and I want a refund.