The Weightless One by Anais Chartschenko: Book Review
A novel written in verse, Anais Chartschenko’s The Weightless One is an unconventional character portrait of a young woman who’s been sectioned due to an eating disorder. Seemingly inadvertently – and with consummate skill through the prism of convalescence and therapy – Chartschenko slowly reveals a family background and the possible rationales for the development of her heroine’s psychological issues in the series of poems.
We also get an insider’s view of a mental health facility. We learn how patients shouldn’t compare care and diet plans with each other. We discover a little about how detrimental the pursuit of modelling from an early age can be on a psyche. That some airbrushed celebrities may not be the best people to place on pedestals is also hinted at. Again, showing impressive topicality, when it comes to the reasons for being put in the care of the mental health services, there are echoes of the misogyny prevalent in the high school and college campus sexual assault cases in the US.
We could list many more such elements – we could list all night, like the Titanic, because Chartschenko’s work is an iceberg, with a lot going on beneath the surface.
Any one of her fellow patients, also suffering from eating disorders, could have been the protagonist of this work, richly drawn as each is. The old Tolstoy quote about how happy families are all alike but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way could apply to anorexics and bulimics. Incidentally, family plays a prominent role in our protagonist’s life here too. Dysfunction is apparent and, although conveyed with subtlety and nuance, typical of what one might expect. What impresses most is how things play out as the story continues, in tandem with how our heroine Miranda’s family circumstances impacted on her emotional state to lead to this point.