Review: Small Acts of Disappearance by Fiona Wright

 

Trigger Warning- This post and the reviewed book discuss eating disorders.

Image by Sarah Ambrose

Image by Sarah Ambrose

Nita B Kibble Literary Award winning book Small Acts of Disappearance is a series of ten essays by Fiona Wright about her battles with an eating disorder. Fiona’s experience with Hunger (the capital H kind) began in high school and has continued well into her adult life, coming close to killing her. It is a disease she will always be fighting.

It is an honest and poetic account of the effects of hunger in all its forms, and the impact that words can have. Fiona's account of her battles is equally beautiful and haunting, a terrifying insight into the insidious behaviours of eating disorders.

For Fiona, the urge to write and her eating disorder come from the same basic drives, with hunger playing the role of mediator. Her essays highlight the important roles hunger plays in daily life for many people, whether they are healthy and well-fed or starving (whether intentionally or unintentionally).

In her essays, Fiona does not shy away from the truth, but states it in such a way that you can be both horrified and feel what she felt all in the same moment. Through Fiona’s essays, the reader comes to experience what an eating disorder may feel like. 

 
In Australian females aged 15-24 years, bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa are the eighth and tenth leading causes of burden of disease and injury respectively. In young Australian females aged 12-24 years, eating disorders account for 14% of hospital admission for a behavioural or mental disorder (second only to depression, which accounts for 19% of admissions).
— Headspace.org
 
Image by Sarah Ambrose

Image by Sarah Ambrose

It is by no means an easy read. It will stay with you long after you've left the physical book behind. In her second essay, “In Hospital”, Fiona reveals just how bad things were, opening with “at my sickest, a lover once folded a blanket over my shoulderblade [sic] before curling against my back to sleep.” Hard for most of us to imagine, for her this was the norm. She goes on to recount strangers visibly disturbed by her appearance. She talks about having to manage food intake in hospital, so that she absorbed nutrients without pushing too hard and having her body reject the food. She takes us through her initial denial of her problems and the repeated refrain that she was not “one of those women.” By meeting and understanding others like her, Fiona came to accept herself and began to heal.

Her essays are raw and honest, telling her readers what it feels like to be in her shoes through different moments of her life. At times this book is too honest, hitting you with truths too hard to face. It is refreshing to see such a heavy topic dealt with so honestly.

For me, the highlight were her personal anecdotes, from the first group outing from the hospital to a cafe, to the stories of stealing food, providing more evidence that hunger drives even the decision to starve oneself.

Fiona looks at hunger on a larger scope, and the different views on Hunger globally, making her book part travel guide, part research essay, part history text (with World War Two having produced some of the most comprehensive hunger studies ever seen) and part memoir. Fiona paints portraits of places, people and feelings with a supernatural clarity.

Small Acts of Disappearance is an insight into humanity that you will never forget.


If this post has brought up uncomfortable or triggering thoughts or emotions for you, there are people trained to help.

You can contact the Butterfly National Helpline at
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support@thebutterflyfoundation.org.au
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Sarah Ambrose

Sarah works in publishing and can often be found with a good YA book in hand. She co-runs the Instagram page @your_reality_is_an_illusion which promotes and reviews books, and is a freelance editor. You can find her at: SarahNicoleEditorial