Our Canadian friends up north have just awarded the First Novel Award, which celebrates the talents of a first-time Canadian novelist. This is the 40th year of the First Novel Award, a prize that has helped to launch many an early writing career, including Michael Ondaatle's.
This year's winner is Mona Awad, author of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. There's humor in this novel, much of it dark and relatable, but the book is more affecting than funny. Here in the U.S., The Washington Post described it as "stunning" and "simultaneously tart and tender." The Canadian Globe and Mail also raved about the book, calling it "beautifully told, with a profoundly sensitive understanding of the subject matter."
The book is an exploration of a woman's life. Specifically, it looks at her relationship to body image expectations--her own and those of society's at-large. What must have struck the award judges was not just the topicality of the book but the way in which Awad presents the story. The author does not bludgeon us; she tells the story in details. As the suburban teenager Lizzie, who is overweight, evolves into Beth and finally into plain Elizabeth, we see her successfully control her weight. But words like "success" and "control" are fleeting when they are tied to any one thing. It's much more complicated than that.