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Small Acts of Disappearance

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Small Acts of Disappearance is a collection of ten essays that describes the author’s affliction with an eating disorder which begins in high school, and escalates into life-threatening anorexia over the next ten years. Fiona Wright is a highly regarded poet and critic, and her account of her illness is informed by a keen sense of its contradictions and deceptions, and by an awareness of the empowering effects of hunger, which is unsparing in its consideration of the author’s own actions and motivations. The essays offer perspectives on the eating disorder at different stages in Wright’s life, at university, where she finds herself in a radically different social world to the one she grew up in, in Sri Lanka as a fledgling journalist, in Germany as a young writer, in her hospital treatments back in Sydney. They combine research, travel writing, memoir, and literary discussions of how writers like Christina Stead, Carmel Bird, Tim Winton, John Berryman and Louise Glück deal with anorexia and addiction; together with accounts of family life, and detailed and humorous views of hunger-induced situations of the kind that are so compelling in Wright’s poetry.

188 pages, Kindle Edition

First published September 1, 2015

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About the author

Fiona Wright

23 books63 followers
Fiona Wright is a writer, editor and critic. She is the author of two collections of essays, Small Acts of Disappearance and The World Was Whole, and two poetry collections, Knuckled and Domestic Interior.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 87 reviews
Profile Image for Benjamin Farr.
423 reviews21 followers
June 1, 2016
Wow. What an incredibly honest, raw account of the author’s battle with anorexia. I’ve never read anything quite like this before and I have gained a much more profound understanding and empathy toward people who suffer this illness. The intensity and richness of Wright's words left me heartbroken but also deeply moved.
Profile Image for Michael Livingston.
795 reviews242 followers
October 5, 2015
A beautiful series of essays dealing broadly with the authors anorexia. Wright is an exquisite writer and refuses to take easy narrative paths or fall back on sentimentality. It's a short, powerful and lyrical book that deserves to be widely read.
Profile Image for Alexandra Daw.
280 reviews27 followers
February 17, 2016
The 2016 Stella Prize longlist of a dozen books was announced on 9 February, of which Small Acts of Disappearance - Essays on Hunger was one. I was intrigued by the description of this particular book and delighted to find it available as an e-book through my local public library service.

Anyone who knows me will know that I wrestle with food and weight on a daily basis and wish I had a different body. I am obese and have struggled with my weight since I was about 10 years old. I know obesity is one of the strongest markers for bowel cancer. Due to my genetic heritage I need to get tested for bowel cancer every 2/3 years - a hideous process where you must drink enormous quantities of very salty fluid until you want to puke before undertaking "a procedure" the next day. Fun stuff. Not.

Wouldn't you think I would be motivated to do something about my weight? But no - I eat just about everything that comes in temptation's way. I have very little self-control when it comes to food. So you can understand why I am fascinated about those who suffer from the exact opposite syndrome - who go hungry, who starve themselves to the point of being emaciated (by the way it is very difficult to find an antonym for obesity). Who have control.

Fiona Wright's book is a slim volume (pun kind of intended). Funnily enough, in my reading habits I do not like huge tomes. A bit like movies, I get impatient with anyone who can't get their point across in 2 hours or less. So I was surprised by how quickly I was getting through the book (goody -another finished for the Reading Challenge - measuring measuring attainment attainment) but also surprised by the density of the content, the carefully chosen words and their resonance. This was meaty stuff.

Wright's book is not a definitive text on the issue of eating disorders. Rather, and I think more importantly, it is a reflection on her experience.

Knowing ourselves is one of the greatest challenges of life. Think of how much we dissemble to others (and ourselves) on a daily basis - yes, we are happy, coping, not going mad, pleased to see you, meet you - whatever. And much of this is vital for the smooth workings of society. Good manners and charm are the oil that make the world go round. "Act enthusiastic and you'll be enthusiastic" my mother always intoned to me. And Lord knows, it seems to have served me well all my life.

And yet, what if you feel like the world is out of control, or you are out of control. What can you do?

Wright stops and looks back at the pathology of her illness - looking for clues about how it might have begun, what the triggers might have been. This is not all "Dear Diary" stuff, I hasten to add. Wright informs her reflections with other writing on the topic, scientific, historical and good old literature itself, including writings by Christina Stead, Tim Winton, Dorothy Porter, Carmel Bird and many more. She also analyses the language used by therapists in her treatment - a subject obviously dear to the heart of a wordsmith and a nod to the importance of the "connect" between mind and body.

I won't spoil the book for you by revealing all but here is some of her writing to give you a clue.

"I still want, sometimes, someone or something to take from me the burden of being myself, this burden that I could perhaps only bear, for so many years, through hunger" and "I miss the simplicity of illness sometimes. Because the more acute pain is in trying to get better - and it's a pain that's chronic too - and in stripping away the protection, the insulation, the certainty that my hunger gave me"

Such thought-provoking writing isn't it? I think this would be a great book for book clubs mostly because this is such an important issue - for mothers, for parents, for ourselves as women, for ourselves as members of a society that needs to reflect more on its pathology.

I thank the author for sharing her experience with us, for finding the words for that most difficult of undertakings - self-knowledge - and shining a light for the rest of us who need to unravel our complicated relationship with food; that most basic of needs.
Profile Image for Lee Kofman.
Author 8 books114 followers
April 22, 2016
I’m in awe of Fiona Wright’s Small Acts of Disappearance. In fact, I felt really pissed off as I kept reading her book, as I was profoundly jealous of her fresh way of looking at things, her maturity and intelligence. But then, these are exactly the kind of books I need to read to be a better writer. So thank you, Fiona. Thank you for bringing such an unfamiliar approach to the familiar topic of eating disorders. Thank you for writing such an ambitious, thematically rich book that does not shy away from digressions and intellect. Thank you for making the form of personal essay hot. Thank you for writing the kind of a book I wanted to keep reading and was not relieved at all when I reached the end, as I often do with books.
Profile Image for Kate (Lillytales).
62 reviews57 followers
June 2, 2016
Small Acts of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger by Fiona Wright is an honest depiction of Fiona's life with an eating disorder. Written in ten short chapters, Small Acts delves into the struggles she has faced with food, understanding the body and eating in different stages of her life: firstly at University, then in Sri Lanka while she's working as a journalist, in Germany as a young writer, and then in a recovery hospital back in her hometown of Sydney. Fiona tells of her obsession in becoming smaller as she tries to consume less space and feeds off the feeling of hunger.

Each essay is written as a standalone piece and draws from other literary writers such as Tim Winton, Christina Stead and Carmel Bird in understanding how fictional characters and scenarios speak to the experiences of life with an eating disorder. I was completely drawn into this collection and read it all over two days. Fiona's expression of her personal experiences is enlightening and really captures and consumes the reader into her world, while also maintaining control of the story and owning her experiences.

I especially enjoyed how Fiona writes about the comfort books and reading has brought to her throughout her life, one of my favourite passages from the text is "It is in the library, surrounded by books, that she begins to eat again." (page 126) From this, I think Fiona is explaining how books and storytelling are often supportive structures in our lives and she re-iterates how important literature is to recovery throughout her work.

Fiona is an established poet and critic and although this book is a collection of essays, it reads as beautifully-spun poetry; it's meaning and frankness is understated and humble. There is no unnecessary dramatisation in this eating disorder memoir, it is rather a study of the human mind, our conditioning towards food and hunger and the story of a brave life, in which we can all learn something about ourselves. If you know someone who is struggling with an eating disorder or it's something you'd like to learn about, I recommend you pick up Small Acts of Disappearance by Fiona Wright.
Profile Image for Jaclyn.
Author 45 books548 followers
October 29, 2015
I'm struggling with where to start as there is so much to say but also so little. Read these essays. Read them. Just read them.

I really feel like I learnt so much about hunger, therapy, anorexia and writing. Wright is a superb writer and her essays are exquisitely written and structured. I feel honoured that she shared these insights and experiences with me. This collection is deeply personal yet is without sentimentality. Wright acknowledges her own bias and rewriting of her past.

I imagine this book will be on the Stella Prize shortlist and could/should win.
Profile Image for Natalia.
4 reviews
January 9, 2016
My sister gave me this book to read as I ended my 18 month outpatient treatment for an eating disorder that I have had for 9 years.
I have also suffered co-morbidity for the majority of my illness and I found Wright's various insights and realisations of her anorexia extremely relatable. She put in to words what I have found hard to express.
Some might read it and think it is self-indulgent, pessimistic & monotonous. To me, it painted a very realistic- albiet not so pretty - picture of anorexia and how it infiltrates the rest of your life.
If you want to understand the inner workings of this illness and/or how it affects the lives of loved ones then I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Nancy.
911 reviews36 followers
April 13, 2019
Finished: 13.04.2019
Genre: essays
Rating: B+
The more Fiona thinks about her body
the more she knows it is no longer her own.
Her body tries to fold up at the first sign of danger
…as if disappearing into a shell.

My Thoughts
Profile Image for kat.
443 reviews26 followers
March 16, 2016
I thought that eating disorders only happen to women who are vain and selfish, shallow and somehow stupid; it took me years to realised that the very opposite is true, that these diseases affect people, men and women both, who think too much and feel too keenly, who give too much of themselves to other people. I knew I wasn’t vain, I wasn’t selfish; but I have always felt vaguely, indeterminately sad, too vulnerable to being hurt, too empathic and too open, too demanding and determined in the standards that I set for myself and my life.

Recently I was lucky enough to talk to an emeritus professor of Australian literature about The Natural Way of Things, and during the chat she pulled this book out of her bag to show me and was clearly impressed by it which was one reason I sought it out – and I'm so glad I did. If you have any kind of pretensions to being a writer yourself, this collection of essays is the kind that will simultaneously fill you with despair (because you will never ever be that skilled) and exhilaration (because it is a fucking treat to read the words of a writer that skilled).

Anyone who was into The Empathy Exams: Essays needs to read this immediately; in fact, I think it’s probably better than The Empathy Exams because every essay in this is so effing strong; I think it’s helped by the fact that they are all about anorexia in some manifestation or other (e.g. explorations/depictions in fiction) underpinned by the author’s own personal experiences. The fact that it’s set in the inner west of Sydney where I live with references to general landmarks (e.g. cafes on Glebe Point Road) and at the university where I work really resonated with me. I realised in reading this that I am more or less a perfect match for the personality type most likely to be affected by an eating disorder, and it really made me think a lot about my own attitude towards food and eating (because I more or less think about food constantly, and I do wonder sometimes if I’m eating enough to counter-balance all my physical activities).
Profile Image for Jane.
213 reviews8 followers
January 8, 2016
Repetitive writing, given her obsessive, repetitive relationship with food and order, it's probably unavoidable.
I started reading this book because I thought it might give me some understanding of food obsessions I don't understand.
But it was too self obsessed for me to empathise. I tired of it pretty quickly.
I started skim reading about a third way through so I decided not to continue at the half way mark.
Profile Image for Elspeth.
29 reviews17 followers
September 5, 2021
The most bizarre moment whilst reading this book was when the author first mentions the Warren View hotel, which I was literally passing by on the 428.

This book 'fed' my knowledge of both anorexia and addiction and I am the richer for it. I shudder to think now how far public understanding of these things is from the reality.
Profile Image for Zoë.
8 reviews
January 19, 2016
I read this book in one sitting, dare I say, I devoured it. Wright's essays are descriptive without romanticising the illness, and are written with the insight only someone who has endured an eating disorder first-hand can provide.
Profile Image for Martin.
16 reviews56 followers
February 11, 2018
I found this book to extremely well written, insightful and educational. I also found it helpful with some of the work I do with patients who have an eating disorder. Hopefully, I will become even better at my work thanks to Fiona's voice.
Profile Image for Ellen.
955 reviews36 followers
March 16, 2016
A tightly woven collection of essays describing a life railroaded by all-consuming illness. This book is shocking but never dehumanising, thanks to the richness of its detail and a gentle academia.
Profile Image for Len.
14 reviews3 followers
May 12, 2020
A really powerful insight into the experiences of hunger and mental and physical illness.
The autobiographic style was really powerful, and made me better understand people I know who have experienced similar things and my own experiences with chronic illness and insecurity. It's a very sobering reminder that EDs are about more than just vanity, which I think is often ignored in discussions about them.
I'm unsure quite how to articulate all of my feelings about these essays, but I do know that this is a powerful insight into the complexities of physical and social elements of illness.
Profile Image for Melissa.
60 reviews9 followers
January 4, 2018
A small miracle of a book. (Recommend reading alongside Olivia Laing’s The Trip to Echo Spring.)
Profile Image for Darcy.
164 reviews
March 1, 2017

cw: eating disorders, mental illness

When I picked up this book I had no idea it was by an Australian, let alone one from Sydney. Then came the uncanny parallels of living in the same area, frequenting the same cafes, bars, bookstores and shopping centres, studying the same subjects (though 10 years later) at the same university in the same buildings, visiting the same places and cafes in Berlin on our travels there, and other unexpected details. Wright's descriptions of all these things fit perfectly with my own experiences. I even recognised someone I know in the acknowledgements. Weird. Imagining her experiences taking place against the backdrop of my own life made the idea of disordered eating and anorexia more tangible and knowable, if you will, to me than it has been before.

Small Acts... is content-rich but not dense, my favourite kind of writing to read. I found Wright's research into all different aspects of hunger fascinating, the literal and the figurative, the scientific and the poetic. I learned about the myriad ways anorexia can manifest itself, but also about the patterns of thought and behaviour common to nearly all who live with it. Wright's wit, her capacity to observe, to analyse and relay these things, to articulate, they all inspire a weird kind of jealousy. Not to have lived her experiences or her sufferance, but to be able to express my own with such acuity.

One of the reasons I read is to become a better writer. This book makes me want to write. This book makes me want to write well.
Profile Image for Ely.
1,306 reviews104 followers
March 24, 2016
Originally posted at Tea & Titles

Small Acts of Disappearance was my first book from the Stella Prize 2016 shortlist. I made a post about this the other day that I’ve linked here, if you’re interested in finding out more about the Prize.

The first time I looked at the shortlist and went through all the books on Goodreads, this was the one that stood out the most to me. I’ve been interested in books about eating disorders since high school. Like books about depression and anxiety, I think it’s something that needs to be discussed (in a positive way) more often in books, especially in YA (the only one I can think of is Wintergirls, but more about that another day).

Small Acts of Disappearance is a collection of essays about Fiona Wright’s own experiences with anorexia, and because of that I think it’s an incredibly important book. Not once does Fiona Wright use body shaming to get her point across, nor does she try and tone down her experiences. She’s honest about what her life has been and continues to be like. I really appreciate that she doesn’t make eating disorders seem less important than what they are. I know from my friends and I’s experiences in high school and University that body issues are tough. I’ve seen the way this issues are undermined, dismissed or made fun/light of. It was really nice to see a book talk about the issues in a real way.

I don’t know how else to review this, because it’s impossible to review other people’s real experiences. All in all, I think this is a very important book and it’s set a very high standard for the other Stella Prize books.
Profile Image for Kimbofo.
748 reviews152 followers
April 18, 2016
It seemed slightly uncanny that in the week I finished reading Fiona Wright’s Small Acts of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger that anorexia was suddenly splashed all over the media here in the UK. That’s because Dame Joan Bakewell, a respected veteran broadcaster and this year’s judge of the Wellcome Book Prize, was reported as saying that eating disorders are due to narcissism.

She was rightly called out about this and then she issued an apology. It was clear that her views were outdated and I wanted to hand her a copy of this book to bring her up to speed. Wright’s collection of 10 essays, about her own struggle with an eating disorder, explodes a lot of the myths surrounding the disease. But this isn’t a dry text-book examination of anorexia; it’s an enlightening, easy-to-read memoir, filled with beautiful language and turns of phrase (as well as being a journalist, Wright is a celebrated poet), which puts the disease into a social, cultural, historical and medical context.

I admit to being rather reluctant to pick this one up when it was shortlisted for the 2016 Stella Prize. I expected a maudlin, introspective, self-indulgent set of essays. What I got was something entirely different. It’s totally free of self-pity. It’s informative, without being academic, and it’s unflinching in its honesty. There’s a raw power at its heart, which belies the eloquence and beauty of the prose. Indeed, I was so enamoured of the text that my Kindle indicates I highlighted more than 2,100 words of it.

To read the rest of my review, please visit my blog.
159 reviews14 followers
April 30, 2016
While on a flight I alternated between reading an essay from this book and a short story from a horror collection and found Fiona's writing to be by far the scarier of the two. Like 'Binary Star' last year, 'Small Acts...' Is scary because of how realistic and oft times relatable eating disorders and control issues are made to the reader.

The way these unwanted thought can creep into the mind is as insidious as any supernatural invader, the delusions that they cause as damaging as any curse or creature. What makes Wright's writing on the topic so remarkable though is the way that she manages to present an unvarnished, intimate look at the way these issues have effected her life without it ever seeming dark, brooding or hard to read.

'Binary Star,' both because of its content and style is tough to sit through, but in a strange way 'Small Acts...' Is an almost enjoyable read. It's important to note that this is not a simple, inspiring story of triumph over adversity, nor a how to guide to fix yourself. She elucidates without lingering, weaving notes of her illness into larger snippets of the life that surround them. These aren't stories of Anorexia, they are stories about a person who at one stage may have had it, but it didn't define her then and certainly doesn't now.

A fascinating and fantastically crafted collection even if consumed without a connection to the issue (personally, or through friends and family) but a desperately important one if you do. I wish that she had gone a little deeper into the social and political side of the story that she only hints at here, but perhaps there will be a place for that in a follow-up.
June 3, 2016
Magnificent. A personal experience made public by a very brave young author who does not seek our empathy or sympathy. Wright discusses her experience, anguish, obsession, and hopes, together with drawing on other works written by authors about obsession and addiction. There is only one way for her to express this: obsessively, in minute detail, while keeping readers curious to know more. I saw this in the bookshop, the cover leapt out at me - what a photographic portrait ! - and what a perfect title - I thumbed through it and decided I had to read it. It is written in a very direct manner.
The only way to receive education on these things is to seek rounded information, not just facts.
I hoped to gain insight, and this book delivers a poignant, moving, personal example. I recommend this and I hope the author, who I later discovered has been nominated for an award, continues to succeed in work and in life. Thankyou for writing this brave work, Fiona Wright.
Profile Image for Jill.
Author 3 books3 followers
December 3, 2016
FW writes with piercing insight about hunger as an addiction; the domination of the physical self by the 'rational' self; and how this assertion of the self ('self-control') paradoxically corrupts and destroys the self. The brain is highly mutable. Starvation, like other addictions and extreme emotional or physical states, changes how it functions in ways that are incomprehensible to those on the 'outside'.

The author describes the seductive lucidity and clarity of purpose that come with hunger. Her illness didn't begin with dieting but with a rare digestive disorder that made eating difficult and eventually tipped her into anorexia. She points out that many eating disorders begin this way and not necessarily as a result of zealous dieting, the 'vain, frivolous' cause usually attributed to eating disorders, a feminised phenomenon. (Sidebar: since women are judged so heavily and cruelly on their appearance, starving yourself to the point of invisibility is not an entirely irrational response.)
Profile Image for Elina.
77 reviews6 followers
September 7, 2017
This is a beautiful and unique memoir about life with an eating disorder. Unlike many memoirs that tend to focus on the gory details of the disease itself, Wright's essays are about her recovery, and how she has rebuilt her sense of self without her disease. Wright discusses her career, her family, her adolescence, books she has read, and her time in rehabilitation programs. The thing I found most interesting was the way that Wright talked about her fear of recovery, the way her hunger had, ironically, fed her creativity and career, and her fear that without her eating disorder she would not be able to write. I think there is something in this collection for everyone, it deals with such a vast range of themes, but they are all handled so well by the author that even when talking about things that are painful and uncomfortable, it is still a pleasure to read.
Profile Image for Anna.
119 reviews5 followers
July 15, 2016
This is a remarkable collection of essays about the author's experiences with an eating disorder. The essays are beautifully written, interweaving the author's own experiences of her illness with other accounts and observations. Even though I have not experienced any form of eating disorder, I found many points which resonated with me throughout the collection.

I think part of what makes this collection so impressive is that the author exposes so much of herself and the challenges she faces. The reader is able to see how she has come to understand her own illness over time.

A very worthwhile read.
Profile Image for Giselle A Nguyen.
182 reviews66 followers
August 9, 2016
The writing in this book is absolutely stunning. I particularly loved the chapter "In Miniatures". Wright has a lot of really profound and clever insights, but at the same time, these essays are harrowing and difficult to read because of the delicate subject matter. Truly a gifted writer with wonderful control of language.

Side note: holy typos in this book, batman! Where your editors at, Giramondo?
Profile Image for Theresa.
495 reviews11 followers
March 3, 2016
I couldn't put this book down. This book is as much about Wright's experience with disordered eating as it is about coming to know yourself.
Profile Image for Ferris Knight.
27 reviews5 followers
May 11, 2018
"Hunger is only political, only poignant when it is abnormal, when it is unusual and strange: in a place were [sp?] hunger is so prevalent, one hungry child with an imaginary cricket bat was just a colour piece in the weekend section of a newspaper. But my hunger, singular and self-circling, was a crisis in my hometown. It marked me out. I was wasteful, and I was distasteful. A car with wound-down windows once shot past me on the street, someone shouting from the backseat: 'Eat a hamburger, you bitch!'"

Trigger warning: eating disorders

Small Acts of Disappearance is a collection of essays relating to Fiona Wright's physical illness and anorexia, but it also manages to go beyond. Wright takes us on an exploration of hunger, and her existence being hungry, making this collection of essays a timeless understanding of anorexia. Her poetry shows through, each word a deliberate act of prose.

She manages to talk about starving in a way that talks about feelings but without the usual key triggers, such as weight and numbers. Foods are mentioned but without their calorific or macro qualities. It also doesn't follow a linear progression of illness and recovery that a biography might, rather snippets of understanding, triggered by external factors such as where she was or what she was reading.

Wright also talks about the distance her physical illness put on her acceptance of her eating disorder, of how she didn't relate an early diet to what she would later go through, how she wasn't 'one of those girls' (because our understandings of who is affected by eating disorders has shifted towards a misconception of vanity), and I wonder if writing about 'hunger' instead of 'anorexia' is another attempt at distancing herself still?

This isn't 'sick lit', to use Wright's terminology. Rather an examination where she is a detached subject, something of which she speaks of her therapeutic issues with. If you a reading out of morbid fascination or in an attempt to trigger yourself, this is not the book for you. If you want to understand a loved one's struggle, this too is not for you. But at the same time I think this book is essential reading for understanding the contradiction that is life with an eating disorder.
Profile Image for Tamsien West (Babbling Books).
608 reviews326 followers
September 30, 2019
Written with heartbreaking clarity Small Acts of Disappearance is an essay collection like no other I have read. Wright reflects on her struggles with body and mind with staggering vulnerability. Each essay addresses a theme, moment or a text, something that anchors the narrative around which she weaves the story of her life.

"I sometimes think that this is all I'm doing, trying to use words to cut my way out of the trap. They're not enough, but they are the strongest steel I have."

Reading these essays sometimes feels like a battle. Not because they are difficult to read (I tore through the book in barely 2 days), but because so much of the content is circular. Just as the process of recovery is not linear, neither is the narrative of this book. As there are lapses and relapses, as Wright battles to unravel the workings of her mind, the reader battles alongside her. The difficulty of such unflinching self-examination is clear on the page, which makes it all the more remarkable for the depth of insight and the honesty with which it is delivered.

"It's easier, somehow, to get involved in other peoples' stories so as not to touch my own."

It's clear Wright is a poet, her phrasing is beautiful. My copy now filled with underlined passages and notes in the margins.

"I don't want to be a treasure, or a token or a doll, but haven't yet discovered how I might like a full-sized life instead."

Trigger warning: Disordered eating is the main focus of the book. Some mentions of alcohol abuse and suicide (in reference to a review of another book/author).
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