Carmen’s mother, Maria, is obsessed with dieting. She is constantly trying new plans and putting Carmen on them too, but Carmen’s step-dad, Brian, sneaks her food, so Carmen never loses any weight. When a job opportunity comes up in Birmingham for Maria, she decides to leave Brian and take Carmen to live there. Maria has only just left the hospital where she was recovering from an (unspecified) eating disorder, and it soon becomes clear that she is returning to her old habits – and she wants Carmen to lose weight with her.
Birmingham is where Maria grew up, and whilst she’s working, Carmen is left with her grandmother, who has her own issues with food, overweight and eating almost constantly, or goes to visit her aunt Lisa, estranged from Maria, who runs a nail salon. The other girls at Carmen’s new school reinforce the message that being thin is vitally important, and with nothing else in her life she can control, Carmen begins to imitate her mother, making herself sick after eating.
This is a slow paced novel without a strict plotline, unless you count the progression of Maria’s illness. This wasn’t a fun book, although it had some humorous moments, it was quite bleak, but I think that it was realistic. The ending is ambiguous; you don’t know for sure what is going to happen to Carmen. It’s really a ‘snapshot’ from the life of its protagonist, not a tale of how she got from a to b. I think it’s more about how Carmen reacts to Maria’s eating disorder.
The characters seemed a bit flat at times, but almost all the women in Carmen’s family, who are the focus, are single-minded, obsessed with food. Only Lisa seems to have a healthy, relatively happy, life. Carmen doesn’t have a lot of friends or interests; she has never really been allowed to develop them because Maria is so devoted to dieting. I felt really angry at what Maria was doing to Carmen, but at the same time I could see it was part of her illness. I think this book is as much about families as it is about eating disorders, it shows how people can pass on their beliefs to their children.
Massive is quite a quick read. I thought it was a good, realistic, novel, but it isn't the happiest of tales, so don't pick this up when you want to relax.