Mary W. Walters is one of my favorite authors. A Canadian who is also a well-known editor and author of technical manuals, Mary writes smart, witty novels which zero in on the truth and the frailties of human beings in general. Her most recent novel, ‘The Whole Clove Diet’ is no exception.
I am going to say at the outset that I was impressed immediately with way the opening pages grabbed my attention. Rita is a young woman of 28, but she is like so many other women. She smokes too much, her addiction to food has tipped her into the morbidly obese category, and her life has gone to hell because of it.
Only a few years before, when she was young and svelte she met and fell in love with a widower who had two young children. Her husband, Graham, is a journalist, and his two children, Ida and Simon, resent her presence in their lives. The ghost of her husband’s dead wife looms large in Rita’s life—appearing as an unseen but ever-present specter whose perfection can never be matched no matter how she strives to do so. She cooks and cleans and does everything a mother does with none of the gratitude or respect. Her sole place of comfort has become her green sofa, her cigarettes and food.
Severely depressed, she goes to her regular doctor only to find him gone. The new, snarky nurse informs her she will have to see Dr. Graves or wait weeks. Dr. Graves takes one look at her and unleashes a diatribe which destroys Rita, humiliating her and telling her if she wants to die she should just do it.
Over the next months, life changes for the worse—her husband begins working from home, her father-in-law gets ill and her mother-in-law (who despises her) moves in with them. Rita has no space of her own and one to discuss her problems with, since everyone, even her mother sees only a fat slob with no self-respect and has written her off. Only Graham claims to love her the way she is and she feels he loves Rita the unpaid servant and babysitter more than Rita the wife. He is desperate to have another child, which Rita is completely not ready to contemplate. Her own mother despises her lack of willpower.
Each section opens with the diet Rita is attempting to stick to that month, and the final one, The Whole Clove Diet is one which is really only mentioned in passing, but is seems the most sensible one when you look at it.
Rita’s journey to self-discovery is a compelling character study by the mistress of character studies. Her struggles with self-doubt, self-loathing and addiction to both food and cigarettes are vivid descriptions of the daily torments so many women endure. The place where Rita at last begins the final steps to healing is the last place anyone would ever think she would find refuge.
For Rita there is no magic bullet, no perfect diet and no easy way out. This book is a testament to the strength and determination which is sometimes found only when a person is completely broken down to their component parts. The reassembling process is what I find most inspiring.
I freely give this book 5 stars.