Tag Archives: Memoir

Book Review: ‘Death by Dim Sim’ by Sarah Vincent

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Every day at about 3pm Sarah Vincent would get up from her desk at work and haul her 122kg body across the car park to the food van across the way.

Every day she would order three dim sims (or four or five) and eat them.

And every day as she lumbered back to her desk she would sneer inwardly as she passed the smokers huddled outside the hospital where she worked, with their hospital gowns, and intravenous drips, and missing limbs – all desperate for their nicotine fix.

Then one momentous day, as I passed them wrapped in smug self-righteousness … I realised I was just like them. If they were doing ‘death by cigarette’, then surely I was doing ‘death by dim sim’. The only real difference between them and me was that I wasn’t wearing pyjamas … So I stopped eating dims sims and biscuits and ice-creams and all the other foods I knew were bad for me and began to eat fresh wholesome food in moderation and to exercise regularly…  Are you kidding? Of course I didn’t.

Instead Sarah did what she’d done since she first developed a weight problem at thirteen.  She went on a crash diet. Another time she bought a $500 gym membership, only to attend twice. That’s $250 per visit. She put on the fridge a photo of herself in her underwear. She joined Weight Watchers. She studied mindfulness. She attended a 6am boot run by a South African army sergeant who told her she disgusted him. Hypnotherapy. Overeaters Anonymous. Still no weight loss.  And then her husband was diagnosed with cancer.

Sarah Vincent’s memoir is alternately hilarious and poignant. Spoiler alert – her husband lives and she loses 40kgs – but the real story is in Sarah’s journey from there to here.

I read this book all in one go and enjoyed every minute of it. The memoir part is the first half, the second half is science (of weight loss), recipes, and weight loss tips. All written in Sarah’s clear-eyed, page-turning prose. Reading it is like having a cuppa with a warm and sympathetic friend, one who is always up for a laugh. The book isn’t about preaching, it’s about saying this worked for me and maybe you might like to try it.

Sarah Vincent is a friend of mine, one of my fellow Hardcopy participants. And maybe I wouldn’t have read this book if I hadn’t known Sarah, because self-help memoirs really aren’t my bag. But I’m very glad I did read it, because regardless of whether you need to lose weight or not Death by Dim Sim is an excellent, beautifully written memoir that deserves a wide audience.

Want to know more?

Here’s a copy of the blurb on the back of the book.

And here is Sarah Vincent’s website.

I’ll read anything – if it’s good enough. H is for Hawk is better than good.

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H is for HawkA market researcher once asked me “What do you want to read about?”  I can’t remember what I said but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t “I’d like to read about how an academic Englishwoman lived out her grief through raising and training a goshawk.”

And that’s the thing, isn’t it?  We read in order to be taken to places we didn’t even realise we wanted to go.  To learn about things that it hadn’t occurred to us to learn about.

H is for Hawk is remarkable.  A compelling, lyrical, insightful read.

I’d passed over many of it’s reviews because I assumed it was fiction and, without thinking too much about it at all, assumed it wasn’t for me.  Then somehow I noticed that it was non-fiction and all of a sudden I badly wanted to read it.  Still not quite sure what was going on there…who really knows how we decide which book to read and which to leave on the shelf.

Helen Macdonald’s writing is crisp and beautiful.  She renders the complications of death and love and life into an elegy for her glorious bird (incongruously, deliberately, called Mabel).

Every tiny part of her was boiling with life, as if from a distance you could see a plume of steam around her, coiling and ascending and making everything around her slightly blurred, so she stood out in fierce, corporeal detail.  The hawk was a fire that burned my hurts away.  There could be no regret or mourning in her.  No past or future.  She lived in the present only, and that was my refuge.  My flight from death was on her barred and beating wings.  But I had forgotten that the puzzle that was death was caught up in the hawk, and I was caught up in it too.

Mabel’s early training provides a framework for the narrative.  Within that framework Macdonald skillfully weaves in her own story and that of other falconers, past and present.  She candidly explores the notions of death and grief and living.  Macdonald is a woman with an unusual skill (falconry) in a field dominated by unusual men (again, falconry).  That’s an issue she explores too.  It’s a complex narrative, never simplistically linear, but Macdonald’s deft touch ensures that the story is told with a clear, engaging voice.

It reminded me of two other excellent books that explore the psyche via the prism of the English countryside (and both of which I found unexpectedly fascinating):

H is for Hawk is a wild ride, a serendipitous inquiry into what makes us who we are.  As a book it is proof that good writing can make even seemingly arcane and obscure topics worth reading about.

Other reviews of H is for Hawk:

Read an extract here.

Bonkers: My Life in Laughs by Jennifer Saunders

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Given that I can’t BE Jennifer Saunders, I do wish I were her BFF.  Or a meet-occassionally-for-coffee friend.  Or even just an acquaintance.  Because having read her recently released memoir Bonkers I seem to have fallen just a tiny bit in love.

Wonderfully absurd in partnership with Dawn French, absolutely fabulous as Edina Monsoon in Absolutely Fabulous, Jennifer Saunders is a gifted comedian, actor and writer. And while we knew she could write for TV – and we find out why she didn’t write a movie for Goldie Hawn – this memoir is evidence that Saunders is also a dab hand at the memoir format.  Her narrative voice is engaging, lively and deft.

Saunders comes across as a genuinely nice human being – not perfect by any means, but a woman who knows something about what really matters in life.  Bonkers mainly focusses Saunders’ career in comedy and only lightly touches on her personal life; perhaps a little too lightly.  But her career, and the lifelong relationships it has brought her, are explored with insight and laughter.

Highly recommnded.

See also a review at the Sydney Morning Herald.