My Oxford by Catherine Haines (Print)
Written for the sister of a man who died from anorexia, this is a young woman’s experience of the disorder while studying at the University of Oxford. Catherine Haines’ lively account of student life is enriched with literary, philosophical and existential questions. As the Cambridge Weight Plan spins out of control, a post-graduate’s academic subject, ‘the mind-body problem’, goes through an existential phase to become ‘extraordinary morality’ rather than a mental health problem. The iron will with which Catherine imposes on herself ever more onerous conditions is awe-inspiring. The author is clearly fiercely intelligent, as we can see from the way she exposes the ugly truth behind historical depictions of women with eating disorders and indeed the way society frames abstinence from food as an ally of virtue. However, starving her body means that Catherine also begins to starve her brain. Incisive literary criticism of Hamlet descends into feverish noodlings about Einstein’s theory of relativity. Her descriptions enfold the reader in the hideous illogic of the anorexic. This is a rigorous, philosophical case for regarding an eating disorder as pilgrimage. My Oxford is a personal exorcism, the kind which writers perform on paper while ghting with demons, fears, fate and death, an exorcism which, while painful, is also saving.
‘Made me think deeply about the structure of society in relation to women’s bodies. We still frame our conversations about food in terms or virtue. Searingly honest, sparing, taut, tightly controlled, provocative in the best way, considered and beautifully written. Catherine writes an account of how, through her regime of exercise and abnegation, she tries to reach some sort of transcendent truth in the footsteps of Simone Weil. My Oxford will stay with me.’ Cathryn Summerhayes, Curtis Brown Literary Agency
‘This powerful, thought-provoking debut explores the author’s experiences of her eating disorder in a narrative that is emotionally and intellectually complex yet unflinchingly accessible. Her honest, crafted words are alive with meaning both in what they say and in the spaces they create for the reader’s imagination.’ Frank Egerton, author of The Lock and Invisible
‘Catherine has written a precise and gripping memoir that illuminates anorexia in a way I have never encountered. Eloquent and thoughtful, there is so much here for anybody who has wrestled with themselves.’ Bridie Jabour, author of The Way Things Should Be
‘Superbly written; and as an author myself, I love the sparseness of the text – as if the words were doing to the page what the writer was dong to the flesh. It is a perfect example of the connection between style and content.’ Stephen Stoneham
‘A rigorous, philosophical case for regarding eating disorder as pilgrimage.’ Gwen Davies (adjudication), judge, New Welsh Writing Awards 2017