Fat (book, 2006, Rob Grant)

From SFX 152.


Rob Grant/Gollancz/228 pages

In a world where the number of obese people has, for the first time, overtopped the malnourished, Fat is a timely novel. In looking at fatness from several different angles (he’d have to, it’s a big subject), Rob Grant has written a book that is thought-provoking, moving and hilarious.

The book is split into three parallel stories. Angry TV chef Grenville Roberts takes centre stage in the first strand. A man whose girth is outweighed only by his prodigious temper, Roberts is trying his best to lose some weight, because that’s what the producers of his TV show want, however, in true Grant style, his would-be easy ride is upset by a legion of petty-minded jobsworths, and all before breakfast. The second strand features Jeremy Slank, PR genius, tasked with promoting New Labour’s latest attempt to tackle Britain’s paunch. The third concerns Hayleigh, a teenage anorexic. All very different, but the book works because each strand complements the others, like the layers of a particularly fine cake.

Grenville’s tale is typical Grant, sharp observations about being a larger man in a world populated entirely by idiots, as the not entirely blameless chef blusters his way from one ludicrous situation to the next. Jeremy’s tale bears witness to Grant’s skill with satirical comedy – Fat Farms are just precisely the kind of thing that the government would think up, and he weaves the over-awed Jeremy’s meetings with the nation’s powers-that-be successfully with his desperate attempts to get into scientist Jemma’s pants, a woman who serves dual roles as love interest and vehicle for conveying the shocking revelations that Grant uncovered during research. Okay, maybe they’re not so shocking – he’s saying science is presented to us in a shamelessly skewed manner, and that the high art of Cartesian methodology has gone for a Burton, but he does furnish us with intriguing examples that will make you want to know more – it’s like the Mark Thomas Comedy Product without the bile.

It is in Hayleigh’s story, however, that Grant reveals his authorial abilities. His characterisation is so spot on you’d think you were reading a teenage girl’s diary (er, not that that’s what SFX reviewers get up to…). This section is marvellously well-executed, acting as a magic-mirror reflection to Grenville’s story. Being fat might be deleterious to one’s health, but it’s not as bad as starving yourself to death because you’re overwhelmed by unrealistic media images. And though the government in the book are leaping at the throats of the fatties, the far greater tragedy of anorexia receives nary a thought – as in reality. The news has been full of the reprimanding of the large recently, but there have no real attempts to stop idiot fashion designers using women who don’t look like they’re going to expire if they are not coerced to eat a couple of pies.

Grant’s made a leap forward as an author here, this is a more assured book than his last, Incompetence which was perhaps too ridiculous in pointing out the ridiculous. Fat gets the tone bang on. But, on a final note, Fat is barely SF, in fact, if another author had written it, it would not be called so. It’s even less SF oriented than Incompetence, and is closer to the works of Tom Sharpe than Terry Pratchett. But do not begrudge Grant his fun in the here and now – he has found just as many large, slow-moving targets in the real of today as he ever did in future of Red Dwarf.

Did you know?

Grant drew on his own experiences for the book. He spoke a lot to his own teenage daughter to get the character of Hayleigh right, while he maintains that Jeremy Slank’s chat-up techniques really do work…

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