I consumed ‘Eat My Heart Out’ on buses, at the hairdressers, in snatched moments at cafés and pubs, all the while ruing the fact that I had no access to a pen. This is the kind of book that you relish while furiously underlining, already envisioning passages to recite in the impassioned twilight hours of wine-laden dinner parties.
Zoe Pilger’s debut follows 23-year-old Ann-Marie, Cambridge dropout and charming hysteric, as she traipses through a week in London broken hearted and unrepentantly mad. She is that most unusual of heroines- one refreshingly unfettered by the concerns of the social gaze: melancholy, furious, lovelorn, excitable, lost, horny and ‘bad’. Taken under the wing of Stephanie Haight, a celebrated feminist media-whore determined to mould Ann-Marie into her own deranged likeness, Ann-Marie is both rebel and bewildered acolyte. A slave to her own impulses, she submits to Stephanie yet can never truly be led.
The narrative weaves together opposing philosophies that reference Pilger’s PhD in romantic subjection at Goldsmiths and her work as art critic for The Independent. Read it to yourself with the measured pauses of Bill Hicks to fully appreciate her dry wit. This is a beady-eyed, fantastically funny satire of pop-cultural womanhood and the consumer-driven pretentions that undercut modern hedonism.
In one of my favourite scenes from the book, Ann-Marie recounts her refusal to be her ex-boyfriend Sebastian’s muse.
‘He said that being a muse could be really sexy like Betty Blue. We had watched that film recently. I said: But the woman goes crazy. She gouges out her own eye. And he said: But the man writes a novel about it, so it’s worth it. And I was like: It’s worth her losing an eye?’
Ann-Marie then has an encounter with an elderly gentleman in a hotel whose cunnilingus skills are so epic that his now-dead wife declared it a crime not to impart this jouissance to the world (of young women). ‘He ate and ate and ate… I tried to push his head away, but his scalp was too well-oiled and my hands kept slipping off. He was good at it.’ Ann-Marie comes.
Afterwards, she throws up into a bin.
This scene is one of many that describe and challenge the complexities of feminism, desire, agency and capitulation. Pilger portrays a world women navigate with broken moral compasses- lurching newborn foals and cynical harpies at the same time. Ann-Marie is raw. Our narrator is twisted because of her very unwillingness to be unreliable. Unlike, say, Zorg from Betty Blue, who ends up smothering his mentally ill lover with a pillow in a final, unrequested act of kindness.
‘Eat My Heart Out’ has been described as ‘Hell-bent on achieving Rimbaud’s derangement of the senses’ by the Times Literary Supplement and it reads like open-heart surgery. A pulsing, exposed organ extracted with the careful precision of surgical craft. It is a picaresque romp through the darkness of the early 20s- that period in a woman’s life, denoted as ‘maidenhood’, which more often feels like a prolonged psychotic break.
Originally published in Eclectic Magazine online.