I devoured this book (pun intended). The idea of women wanting to gorge themselves and take up more space physically as a precursor to taking it up mentally and socially, is delightfully and annoyingly radical. That pressure for the feminine to be neat, contained, and, if possible, small, quiet and submissive is deliciously subverted by a rowdy supper club where women gorge themselves silly on food, drink and drugs, taking up space with their loud voices, dancing and messy eating. The physical expansion of flesh that ensues is less embarrassing because all the individuals in the group put on weight collectively and celebrate the extra flesh rather than hiding it behind modest outfits and downcast eyes.
This rebellion of gendered flesh, where women become as happy with their girth as men with beer-guts who display their torsos on a summer’s day, is what excites me as a reader. I enjoy the story of Roberta too, her friendship with the would-be artist, Stevie (note their feminised masculine names), and how this friendship affects her ongoing relationships. However, I am left feeling frustrated.
As the novel goes on, the radicalism drifts. The desire to be defined outside of patriarchal constraints diminishes as the women make space for themselves. I suppose I should see this as beautiful – as they become more comfortable in their own skin, they give themselves permission to take on new roles within the patriarchal structure – but it feels like growing old, giving up, like settling.
I can’t say that I live an especially feminist life. I’m rather pathetic in that regard. But I wanted this book to be more stridant than me. The characters use the supper club to speak out and they gain confidence personally too, but is that enough?
Supper Club is a brilliant read but what it sells is really only part of its own, safer, extended narrative. I love it for its ideas but wish it had taken them further. It has does have bite, but did it take a mouthful a little too big to chew? Out in July of this year, I look forward to seeing what others make of it. Read it and let me know what you think.
Next week I’m reading Poster Boy by N. J. Crosskey.