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Fat review

A tasty tale from the ex-Red Dwarfer

Author: Rob Grant

Publisher: Gollancz

228 pages • £9.99

ISBN: 0-57-507420-5

Rating:

In a world where the number of
overweight people has, for the first
time, surpassed the malnourished, Fat is
a timely novel. In looking at the issue of
obesity from several different angles
(he’d have to, it’s a big subject...), Red
Dwarf co-creator Rob Grant has written
a book that is thought-provoking,
moving and hilarious.

The book is split into three parallel
stories. Angry TV chef Grenville Roberts
takes centre stage in the first strand. A
man whose girth is matched only by his
prodigious temper, Roberts is trying his
best to lose some weight, because
that’s what the producers of his TV
show want. However, in true Grant style,
his would-be easy ride is upset by a
legion of petty-minded jobsworths, and
all before breakfast. The second strand
features Jeremy Slank, PR genius,
tasked with promoting New Labour’s
latest attempt to tackle Britain’s
paunch. The third concerns Hayleigh, a
teenage anorexic. All very different
stories, but the book works because
each strand complements the others,
like the layers of a particularly fine cake.

Grenville’s tale is typical Grant, with
sharp observations about being a larger
man in a world populated entirely by
idiots, as the not-entirely-blameless
chef blusters his way from one
ludicrous situation to the next. Jeremy’s
tale bears witness to Grant’s skill with
satirical comedy: an initiative like “Fat
Farms” is precisely the kind of inane
soundbite-y idea that our government
would think up. And while Jeremy
meets with the nation’s powers-that-be,
he’s also desperately trying to get into
the pants of a scientist called Jemma,
who serves a dual role as love interest
and a vehicle for conveying some
shocking revelations that Grant
uncovered during his research. Okay,
maybe they’re not so shocking – he’s
saying that science is presented to us in
a shamelessly skewed manner, while
the high art of Cartesian methodology
has gone for a burton – but he does
furnish us with intriguing examples
that’ll make you want to know more. It’s
like The Mark Thomas Comedy Product
without the bile.

It’s in Hayleigh’s story, however, that
Grant really reveals his authorial abilities.
His characterisation is so spot on you’d
think you were reading a teenage girl’s
diary. This section is marvellously wellexecuted,
acting as a magic-mirror
reflection to Grenville’s story. Being fat
might be deleterious to your health, but
it’s not as bad as starving yourself to
death because you’re overwhelmed by
unrealistic images in the media. And
though the government of the book is
leaping at the throats of the fatties, the
far greater tragedy of anorexia receives
nary a thought – as in reality. The news
has been full of criticism of the
overweight recently, but there has been
no real attempt to stop idiot fashion
designers using women who look like
they’re going to expire if they’re not
coerced to eat a couple of pies.

Grant’s made a leap forward as an
author here: this is a more assured
book than his last, Incompetence, which
was perhaps too ridiculous in pointing
out the ridiculous. Fat gets the tone
bang on. Fat is barely SF – in fact, if
another author had written it, it would
not be described as such. It’s even
less SF-oriented than Incompetence,
and is closer to the works of Tom
Sharpe than Terry Pratchett. But do
not begrudge Grant his fun in the
here and now; he’s found just as many
large, slow-moving targets in the real of
today as he ever did in the future of
Red Dwarf.

Guy Haley

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