Book Review: First we make the beast beautiful

First, we Make the Beast Beautifull.  Sara Wilson. 2017. Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd

There is a dark part of me.  You may have met her.  She really wants to dislike happy looking, perky, pretty people who have a tendency for having pictures of themselves with baskets of produce on the front of their bestselling health books.

I want to despise them, in truth. How dare you insinuate that is all I need to do? How many mornings have I dragged my sorry sick-arse out of weekend-bed to get to organic markets? How many gluten free, carb free, crap free recipes have I slaved my sorry sick-arse over? Am I well?  Am I perky and happy and clutching my own proverbial basket of fruit? I most certainly am not.

I own it. I have Pretty-People-Holding-Organic-Produce-in-Rustic-Cane-Baskets hater issues.

Hence it was with a little trepidation that I headed off to Sara Wilson’s (of I-Quit-Sugar fame) recent talk at our local library.  I went for two reasons. One – it was only $5 (Thank you South Perth Libraries). Two – I heard the I-Quit-Sugar-Brigade are OK with wine (because the sugar is fermented) and I read “refreshments” on my ticket.

I left at the end of a delightful evening, with no wine and Sara’s latest book – “First we make the beast beautiful”.

Now I like Sara so much I am even prepared to overlook a) her beauty b) her tendency to get in the New York Times bestseller list with her Pretty-People-Holding-Organic-Produce-in-Rustic-Cane-Baskets antics.

So now that we have that out of the way – let’s talk about her delightful book.  The front cover tells us it is ‘a new story about anxiety’.   Is there such a thing? Well, it turns out yes.  Yes there is.

Sara’s book is a ramble, but in a good way, like talking to a friend over a few too many coffees/wines.  It is so much better than a novel, yet just as entertaining.  She has a way, with her delicious words, of taking you right into things, the world, her world, yourself, the dark stuff.

Because prior to her basket holding sugar free fame she was a journo, she manages (I bit like my other girl crush Stephanie Merritt) to weave the research in, in a way that seems like entertainment rather than academic speak.

She sneaks in ‘exercises’ in a way that makes me actually try some of them.  None of this “here comes and exercise – exercise here – how was that exercise for you?” rubbish.  Because she too owns a number of mental illnesses, she speaks to us in a way that only a fellow sufferer can.  She speaks to us the way we want to be spoken to. Fast. Witty. Smart. Entertaining.  Yes, she uses the one-word sentence thing too.  I think to better effect than me, but you get the gist.

The downside …. It’s not a downside to her book ….. It is a downside to life.

There is no magic pill.  No standing in this pose at 3am cures.  No magic bullet.   Much like Merritt’s story (we are not yet on first name basis in my I note mind) there is no happy ever after.  Again much like Merritt’s story I have the same mix of relief and disappointment.  Why can’t someone I trust and believe tell me there is a complete and magic cure? Why?

What Sara gave me (that I don’t think I have found before) was a little bit of a chance to enjoy the beauty of my f*cked up mind.  The mind I have tried so hard to hide and suppress. Like one of those toddlers toys where you hit a head with a plastic mallet and another pops up elsewhere. Always.  Inevitably.

Weaknesses? Of course, who hasn’t?  A little OCD maybe (with each paragraph numbered).  Hey but Sara has OCD.  She likes multiples of threes and fours.  I was thrilled to discover the book ended on paragraph 137, which is not divisible by 3 or 4 (who am I to criticize OCD?).  If I could say just one more while I have the boot it – a bit to name drop-y.  But hell if you invited Louise Hay (and many other super celebs) to catch up and they said yes, you deserve to share it in your book. And now that I reflect – I wanted to know what it was like; to ask the Dalia Lama ‘just one question’; to hold hands and cry with Brene Brown and to have sausages and eggs with Louise Hay.

In sum, read Sara’s book if you are anxious or if you know someone who is anxious or if you just want to understand that Pretty-People-Holding-Organic-Produce-in-Rustic-Cane-Baskets sometimes have more to them.  Or perhaps if you just want to understand what the cool title means (no spoilers here).

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