I’m kicking off Contemporary Literature week of Reading Ireland Month with a review of Midnight Feast by Martina Evans, which is set in a Catholic boarding school in Ireland in the 1970s and explores the claustrophobic lives of two girls whose obsessive and unhealthy tendencies threaten their very lives.
It is 1977 and Grace is starting at a boarding school run by nuns. She is naïve and sheltered and quickly falls under the spell of the charismatic and unpredictable Colette, who has an air of danger due to her erratic behaviour, her handsome biker brother and her attitude to food.
As Grace and Colette’s friendship grows stronger, so too does their desire to get thin, and the closeted atmosphere of the school amplifies their growing co-dependency. As sexual experimentation and their mutual eating disorders progress, Grace starts to realise that there might be a different, much more serious reason for Colette’s manic behaviour.
I bean to study very hard. Everybody noticed. Which was a bit of a pain, because I didn’t want to get called a swot. I lost weight. Not enough people noticed. I ate very little. Trish didn’t understand how I survived on one piece of bread a day. I explained how I enjoyable it was being hungry, but she didn’t understand. She thought Colette and I were mad. I thought Colette was a small but mad, but I definitely wasn’t.
Midnight Feast perfectly captures the teenage tendency towards extremes and explores how that tendency can become overwhelming within the confines of a strict and narrow environment. The nuns at the school feel no compunction in discussing the size of their charges bodies and food is the central focus of each day, giving it a mythic importance in the girls’ lives. Grace is an innocent and her narration is simple and functional, but this works to communicate the lack of insight that this young girl has into her own behaviour and to emphasise just how gullible and
As Colette veers further and further out of control, Grace is dragged with her, highlighting the irrationality of both childhood fears and childhood passions. Colette often maddens Grace, but Grace is in thrall to her and if she can get her approval by being thin, then that’s what she will do. What follows is a nightmarish descent into life-threatening bulimia, which is dealt with in a frighteningly yet matter-of-fact manner.
Thematically, Midnight Feast is a thorough and well intentioned book, but it felt a little flat for me. It is the kind of book that could work well as a YA novel (and may even be one) but ultimately would have benefited from some more depth and exploration into the origins of Grace’s issues with eating. Where it does work is in setting and atmosphere, depicting the world of boarding school as an insular and sometimes dangerous one, where self-harming behaviours can spread and grow due to the lack of outlet for normal teenage rebellion.
READ ON: BOOK
NUMBER READ: 314
NUMBER REMAINING: 432
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!