Book review: The Shape of Us by Lisa Ireland

Thursday, March 23, 2017 Permalink

I met Australian author Lisa Ireland at the Australian Romance Readers’ Convention in late February. Lisa had seen my social media profile which very clearly blithers about my weight issues and knew I’d eventually succumbed to weightloss surgery. She suggested her book might resonate… given my history.

And, she was most certainly right as I spent most of her latest novel, The Shape of Us nodding knowingly, interspersed with the occasional “Yes, yes yes!” (In a non When Harry Met Sally kinda way!)

Book review: The Shape of Us by Lisa IrelandThe Shape of Us
by Lisa Ireland
Published by Macmillan Australia
on March 28th 2017
Source: PanMacmillan
Genres: General Fiction, Women's Fiction
ISBN: 1760550876
Pages: 400

Despite excelling at university, Mezz has ended up the second-choice doctor in a two-doctor town, and won't be winning Mother of the Year any time soon. Miserably overweight, she knows it's only a matter of time until her gorgeous husband starts to stray...

Jewels runs a successful business and lives in her dream house. All she needs to make life complete is a baby. She'll do anything to lose weight and become a mother... just as soon as the Tim Tams are finished.

Ellie's life looks perfect on Facebook. But unlike the sunny snapshots, her world in Canberra is dull: she left everything behind in London, and the woman she sacrificed her life for is hardly ever home. Her ever-increasing waistline is testimony to just how small Ellie's life has become.

Kat's baby is her world. As a Bosnian refugee, she wants nothing more than a stable, happy life for Ami, but Kat's relationship with Ami's dad is collapsing. If she could just lose the 'baby weight' maybe Josh would look at her the way he used to.

When Mezz, Jewels, Ellie and Kat meet in an online weight-loss forum, a common goal accelerates their friendship. As the kilos start to disappear but their problems don't, they begin to realise that weight-loss might not be the key to happiness, but that supporting and believing in the ones you love, and yourself, just might be ...

Those who’ve grappled with their weight or with body image issues will very much relate to this book, although it will (also) appeal more broadly as ultimately it’s about friendships and relationships… and their ups and downs.

Very specifically however, the book kicks off in a online weightloss forum. And… OH MY BLOODY GOD, could I relate?!

I did a program (that shall remain nameless, unless you search my blog for entries in 2011-2012) which had its good and bad moments. I met some wonderful people in the online forums and via social media – many of whom I’m still virtual friends with today. But, there were some crazies there and as time passed and the program became increasingly popular the forums (and the Facebook pages and the like) became increasingly overwhelming and occasionally a tad rabid.

I could relate to all four of our lead characters but also recognised others, including the bitchy know-all who only had 10kg (20lbs) to lose and thinks she conquered the world, to unsupportive friends and family, to those pursuing other elixirs of perfection and / or peddling miracle cures.

So, the weightloss program; the struggle to stay on it; the ditching of it; the excuses and accompanying guilt were very familiar. And very real. Not to mention the body image and confidence issues.

  • Worrying about people judging your shopping trolley: tick.
  • Feeling ashamed and at fault when someone calls you fat and not wanting to tell anyone it happened: tick.
  • Well-meaning advice from those who’ve got no f*cking idea: tick.
  • Assuming your life will be perfect when you lose weight: tick.

And I think I many women (and men I suspect) will relate to feelings of insecurity when it comes to their physical appearance and attractiveness to their partners.

Nowadays ‘health-at-every-size’ (HAES) and body acceptance (or at least body neutrality) is oft-discussed but a struggle nonetheless. Amidst the self-loathing and shame, there’s a comprehension of the concept that we are more than our bodies… but even those of us who recognise the issues with dieting and deprivation and really should know better, find it hard to walk the talk.

Ireland raises the sensitive (and fraught) issue of weightloss surgery and has certainly done her research. She nails the pros and cons, the internal struggle and the reaction from others (to the notion of it as a viable weightloss alternative).

While this is a bit of a #spoileralert, I think it’s useful to flag that the women take their friendship out of the weightloss program forums pretty quickly, forming their own little online group and I very much enjoyed the way Ireland offered up the different media – moving from third person narratives to first person blog / online posts, giving us more insight into their thinking.

And I for one can vouch for the fact that close (even intimate – and not in a sexual way!) relationships can develop in a virtual world, with people you’ve not met. Indeed, I feel much closer to many online friends than I do to those I see often. And, on that note, there’s nothing scarier AND more delightful than meeting someone in real life (IRL) who you’ve only known virtually.

So, as the backcover blurb indicates, this novel is about far more than weight and weightloss. The women are all facing their own battles and demons and at very different stages of their lives. Sadly I could also relate to the ‘trying to get pregnant’ struggle and feelings of frustration, resentment (and then guilt) when it happens for others but not you. Not to mention the unpalatable sensation of feeling jealous of friends who may experience weightloss success when you’re still struggling.

There were a few tiny glitches for me which – in a less satisfying book – wouldn’t even rate a mention… but Ireland sets the bar high. We didn’t really get to meet one of the husbands in the book, which was a little weird given that we spent time ‘in’ the others’ relationships. It distracted me a little as I kept waiting for a big reveal or enlightenment in some negative way.

I suspect Ireland was tempted by the happily-ever-after here and she ‘almost’ goes there. The conclusion was tied a bit too neatly for me, but… I also think I would have struggled with the lack of closure otherwise. Thankfully she doesn’t give everyone everything they wanted. And, I should warn you, tears will be shed.

Argh! This review has become ridiculously long but there is / was so much I wanted to say. I adored this book despite its lack of psychopathic serial killers (ie. my usual fare 😉 ). I came to care about these characters and ultimately they felt like they’d also become MY friends.

The Shape of Us by Lisa Ireland will be published in Australia by PanMacmillan and available from 28 March 2017.


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