At the young age of fourteen, Laura Freeman was diagnosed with anorexia. Where everyone saw a really thin girl with almost transparent skin, she saw something utterly different in the reflection in the mirror. It was the culmination of months of avoiding certain foods, before almost stopping eating completely until she reached the point where she was starving to death. While she let very little pass her lips in the form of nourishment, she still devoured books, and it was literature that was to hold the key to her recovery.
The road to recovery for an anorexic is long and fraught and it was no different for Laura, but where others just had the mental battle, she had the extra support from the books she was reading. In between the covers of Dickens, Sassoon, Woolf, Lee and Leigh Fermor, she would discover how they were able to consume vast plates full of roast beef, bowls of soup and exotic sounding breads without a care in the world. She reads of soldiers who treasure the moment of a scalding hot cup of tea after an intense battle in World War One. In fact, what she discovered was that these authors loved food; they reveled in the taste of what they were eating and sharing the moment with others. These passages in the books, slowly gave her the confidence to rediscover food for the pleasure of eating it rather than purely as a fuel.
Even though her mind had driven her to the point of abhorring food, one thing that she never lost was her love of reading. Most people do not realise just how debilitating anorexia is and there is some painful moments in here as she recalls the lowest points of her illness. But there are the moments too, where she is sustained by her mother’s love, an invitation from a friend that arrived at just the right moment. I have read a fair number of the books that Laura talks about in here and whilst the eating and celebration of life between friends and strangers is a key part of them, it is not something that particularly stood out for me, until now. Just reading the descriptions quoted in the book made me very hungry! However, it did for Laura and this list of childhood favourites and other classics has played a crucial role in her accepting that food is not something to avoid and can be enjoyed.