The novel opens with a prologue. James’ baby sister has just been born. He cannot believe how tiny she is and when he and his father must eventually leave to give his mother some rest, he wants to stay with his sister. As he leaves his mother says to him, “Don’t worry James Emma will be home with Mummy tomorrow. After that you can spend the whole rest of your lives together”. This thought fills him with joy. We are then propelled into the future with the first chapter and things are far from joyful. James is twenty-two years old and has just graduated from University. He and his mother are visiting his sister Emma, who has an eating disorder and is very ill. James is shocked at her condition, “At twenty years of age, she had the body of someone of eighty or more. Her once soft skin was stretched tight over her face, her hair dull and brittle”.
For the last four months Emma has been force fed through a tube in her nose. We find out that Emma has been Ill for a long time. James remembers ever since Emma started school, she had anxiety issues. Every time he would see her at playtime, she would be as far as possible away from all the other students. Head hanging. For fifteen years Emma was in and out of clinics and hospitals. For fifteen years the rest of the family was clueless that Emma was making herself vomit and this was taking its toll on her health. As Emma moved into high school, her self-enforced isolation continued, and she started to stop eating. Emma’s disorder does not only affect her, it affects the whole family. Her father thinks that she hates him, wallowing in depression, keeping his feelings bottled up inside him. This bottling of feelings has left him angry and bitter and he has isolated himself, like Emma, from the family, hiding away in his garage.
When Emma returns home from hospital, she never leaves her room. With her in her room, the father in the garage, the whole family is in disarray. On the rare occasions when the whole family is together, you could cut the tension with a knife, each member of the family waiting from somebody else to break the silence, all the while the tension ratchets up. James lives his life with underlying guilt. He feels selfish every time he is enjoying himself, his thoughts quickly, and with a will of their own, changing to his sister trapped in the hospital, all alone and suffering. It takes his best friend Holly, to make him realise that he also harbours feelings of anger towards his sister. All these feelings stem from his love for his sister, and his feelings of hopelessness not being able to help her. Interspersed throughout the novel are chapters in which we are taken inside Emma’s head and have access to her thoughts. These chapters are quite horrific, the level of mental anguish almost unbearable to read.
It doesn’t take long for the reader to realise that Emma’s disorder affects every member of the family. There lives indelibly altered to accommodate and revolve around Emma and the disorder. It has left a terrible toll on all of them. In part two of the book, James meets and falls in love with Hannah. Hannah is like a lifeline thrown to James, who now realises he was slowly drowning without knowing it. Hannah is bubbling with life, and James feels like he is coming to life, happiness, a feeling unknown for such a long time. But Hannah has a boyfriend, and this just causes more problems for James. Hannah does have strong feelings for James, and she vacillates between the two. Comparing the boyfriend and James to the future and the present. Meanwhile Emma gets sicker and sicker and is readministered back into hospital. The vicious cycle is never ending, she is let out, she refuses to eat, she is readministered. When she eventually tries to take her life. Something must change. You can feel the passion that Marr has beating deeply within this book and knowing that it is based on his own life and sister gives it a greater feeling of realism.
A wonderful debut novel 4.5 Stars.
After finishing university. Andy Marr took a job in a bank, but he hated it, so he stopped and became a writer in stead. "Hunger for Life" is his first novel, and is closely based on the life he shared with his amazing sister Seonaid. He lives in Edinburgh with his wife and two daughters, where he spends his days writing and his nights fantasising the downfall of Boris Johnson,