Laura Freeman’s memoir of her teenage years and her early twenties, The Reading Cure, recounts her fight with anorexia. But it is not so much a diary chronicling the painful stages of the illness as an ode to the joy of reading. The descriptions of eating and food in books help her break through her anxieties and finally to treat herself to the occasional biscuit. She points to all sorts of gourmet literary treasures, from the chocolate frogs of the Harry Potter books and the river-bank picnic in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows to Mr Wemmick’s buttered toast in Great Expectations and the bread Virginia Woolf made herself. She doesn’t shrink from dipping into food writing either: there is a chapter devoted to Elizabeth David and M F K Fisher.
Though Freeman is keen to share her literary delights, she is not prescriptive, either about treatments for anorexia or about literature. Her ‘reading cure’ is a diary of her private reflections. It is intended neither as a self-help book for others affected by the illness nor as a volume of literary criticism. Gentle in its tone and astute in its insights, the book is a treat.
Freeman’s prose is clear and evocative. Before she read Patrick Leigh Fermor, she writes, ‘yogurt had meant brittle bones, deficient calcium, the dread menu plan. After The Broken Road a bowl of yogurt had the effect of one of Paddy’s “lantern slides”, calling up a traveller’s snapshot of