Book of the month: The Time In Between

a much needed introduction to eating disorders

 

I thought I understood it, but I didn't. Which is probably the case for most people who have never suffered from an eating disorder. I knew anorexia was about more that just wanting to look thin, and that it was a mental illness with terrible recovery rates, but years of voyeuristic media coverage of Nicole Ritchie's bikini bod and 400-word stories in Heat magazine (which always always open with 'lying in my hospital bed') somehow didn't enable me to truly put myself in the shoes of someone affected by the disease. 

But Nancy Tucker's The Time In Between does just that. With endearing honesty and in jaw-droppingly elegant prose she tracks the progress of her anorexia from its inception in childhood, up to her chaotic battle with bulimia in her late teens and through to her recovery.

But this is no misery memoir. The story is moving yes, gripping yes, sad yes, but also unexpectedly funny. As Nancy's voice ages throughout the book, reading along is like chatting first with a little girl, then a moody teen, then a fully fledged, introspective adult, all of whom possess a quick sharp wit and rye perspective you just can't help but like. And it shouldn't be, but that's the unexpected bit. The raw, human, likeableness of Nancy's voice comes as a shock, particularly to those of us who have only come to know anorexia through the faux-concern of gossip magazines and front covers gleefully plastered with photos of skeletal celebrities. 

There's no heroic battle of hope against all odds, but also no glorification of the illness. There are no over-simplifications, no easy answers, no clichés of any kind. But there are a lot of anorexia media myths debunked. (Think fashion magazines cause anorexia? Think again. Or better still, read the book.) 

The memoir allows you to take an interest in anorexia and people who suffer with it without giving you the feeling that there's any pleasure in that (I'm looking at you Heat magazine). Nancy simply lays out her illness in all its contradictions, compulsions and complexity, and lays bare our own ignorance, judgements and shocking lack of provision in the process. It's an education, really. 

This is brave, brilliant writing, an un-put-downable story and a real lesson in empathy. An absolute must read for anyone who knows anyone who's suffered from an eating disorder.