Every now and then you read a book that makes the phrases, “What the phuck?,” “Holy shit.” and “Oh my God!” float through your mind with the turning of every page. I’ve recently had this experience with Sarai Walker’s Dietland. It’s great, shocking, compelling, insightful and every other literary jargon adjective that you will immediately need all of your friends to read it so you can talk about it. Please do me and yourself a favour and buy a copy from one of these booksellers: Amazon, iTunes, Dymocks.
Now let’s chat with the author extraordinaire, Sarai!
Was Dietland inside your mind for a long time? What originally sparked the idea of writing about feminism in such a unique (and sometimes shocking) way?
DIETLAND has been part of my life for a really long time. I first had the idea to write a feminist novel after I saw the film FIGHT CLUB. I loved the film’s angry, defiant, punk spirit. I thought nothing like that existed for women, that only men were allowed to behave that way. So that was the moment a little spark of an idea was created. It would be many years before I knew what the novel would actually be about though.
Were you ever afraid to have such a provocative story hit shelves? Was it in some way cathartic to have Dietland published and set free?
I wasn’t worried until a few months before publication. Then I started to panic a bit, wondering if I’d be attacked. I think all writers feel anxiety in the months leading up to publication — when you publish a book, you put yourself into the public eye and will be judged in a public way, which is scary. Given the provocative nature of DIETLAND, I knew it would make some people angry, and it has, but I’ve received even more positive and enthusiastic responses, which has been great.
My feelings of catharsis came when I finished the editing process. That was when I said goodbye to Plum and her story. When the book was actually published about 9 or 10 months later, I felt in a weird way that I’d already moved on emotionally. DIETLAND now existed for readers, not for me.
The New Baptist Plan was particularly clever. How did you come up with the steps? Did you do specific psychological research?
This summer I was interviewed by a psychologist who specializes in issues to do with body image, eating, etc. She asked me if I consulted a psychologist to write the New Baptist Plan, which was flattering, because I made it up myself!
So often, our ideas of “self improvement” focus on physical appearance and trying to adhere to a cultural ideal. It was an interesting experience to subvert that, to flip it around and create a new self-improvement plan that tries to help a woman accept herself as she is and to think about what self-improvement means from a feminist perspective. Most of the steps are specific to Plum’s situation, so as I wrote it, I focused on the most important problems for her. But I’m sure we could each create a New Baptist Plan for ourselves.
Dietland would be an incredible movie. Any interest in writing a screenplay?
Well (wink, wink), I might have some news to announce about a TV/film adaptation in the near future. While I plan to be a consultant on any adaptation, I don’t want to write the script. I was immersed in the world of DIETLAND for so long and it’s time for me to move on to other projects. I also think it would benefit from a fresh eye. I don’t have enough distance from the story to see how it should be shaped for the screen.
Do you have another book in you? (I hope so!)
Yes! I am currently starting on my second novel, which I’m really excited about. I’m too superstitious to say much about it right now, but it’s both very different from DIETLAND and also similar in the way it explores gender in a provocative way.
(Cover photo by: Theresa Lee)
Sarai Walker is currently living in Taos, New Mexico and working on her second novel.
Follow her on Instragram here.