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Historian and Editor of 'The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister'

As the editor of the Anne Lister journals I was amazed when I found Natasha Holme’s book. I learned that, like Anne Lister (1791-1840), Natasha has been an obsessive diarist from her early teenage years. But the startling fact is that, again like Anne Lister, Natasha wrote in a secret code of her own devising. This marked her out, to me, as a modern-day Anne Lister. Natasha’s account of her struggle to realise her lesbian sexuality and to deal with her eating disorder makes for an interesting, honest and sometimes painful read. I contacted her and, finding that she has many more years of her diairies yet to be published, I feel that a discerning literary agent might well find it rewarding to take up the challenge of getting them published. Like Anne Lister, from whose diaries I have published two books from which two documentaries and a film have been made, Natasha’s story could, I believe, become the subject of a film. It is my belief that her work on her own life may well make her a ‘name’ in the world of lesbian writing.

Lesbian Crushes and Bulimia is a year’s worth of diary entries that chronicle with terrifying frankness the author, Natasha Holme’s, first lesbian crushes and her descent into disordered eating. The stark candor of the account paints a fascinating portrait of a person and a specific time in recent history.

The book, set in 1989, begins with Natasha’s summer experience in Germany. While it’s not specified, it seems that she’s doing some kind of service work with a group of other internationals. She gets along with the rest of her team, and especially Alex, the other British girl in the group. The two bond over their shared experience of intense crushes on former teachers. As the summer goes on the two develop a very close friendship built partially on sexual subtext. They both return home and attempt to continue their close relationship while also trying to define their sexualities.

When Natasha returns to school she explores the gay community while also attempting to figure out her sexual preferences through trial and error. At the same time, her bond with Alex reaches obsessive proportions and when the two start to grow apart, Natasha’s obsession turns to her body and physical appearance.

I flew through this book in almost one sitting, an experience I wouldn’t necessarily recommend, but at a certain point, it’s almost impossible to turn away. There are entries almost every day and as things progress, the author’s obsessions become painfully apparent. Her descriptions of interactions with others are usually characterized by interrogation-like questioning about sexuality, physical appearance and judgments of character. They’re uncomfortable questions, the gathering of evidence and reassurance. And as things got worse and worse, I read to find out if anyone in this person’s world would find a way to break through to her, if anyone would be able to help her. It was almost as if I read to keep her alive.

In 2013, the age of internet journals and pop culture obsessions, and a radically different understanding of eating disorders, homosexuality and adolescence, this is a fascinating book to read. The parallels between this private diary and blogs as confessionals were very apparent and very uncomfortable. I found lots of it really frightening and difficult and for some it’s probably very triggering, but at the same time it’s an important story. It’s a record, both for the author and the rest of us, of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go in creating safe and accepting environments.

An utterly honest account of bulimia. Novels and biographies about eating disorders so often make the condition appear dramatic, exciting and glamourous. This diary does not. It tells of the repetative daily struggle, the depression, and the gruesome, unglamourous physical effects of the condition. I have never been confronted with such raw frankness when reading about this condition. This is a story that everyone needs to read, so that people understand that this condition is undignified, painful and hellish, not something glamourous or enviable. My sincere congratulations to the author for her bravery in sharing her story which could change many people’s lives. I believe that this book has the power to jolt some people out of the addictive cycle, because the reader can’t escape the gritty reality on the page. This book has the power to save lives.

I am a lesbian/bisexual myself, so the sexuality part of the diary also appealed to me (as it really resonated with the obsessive crushes I experienced when I first came out). However, if you are not gay or bi this part of the diary may not appeal to you as much. I urge readers who find the lesbian aspect of the diary less captivating to continue reading because the bulimia-related diary entries are, as I said, invaluable reading for people with bulimia whose motivation for recovery is waning.

This book really reminds you why you are ‘staying clean’ and fighting so hard for recovery.

This book could change your life. I really believe it could. Read it!

As a queer person suffering from bulimia from the age of 8 (so 12 years now), I really related to big chunks of this book. My first real lesbian relationship ended at the start of February too, just a few months before I started reading Lesbian Crushes and Bulimia, so the heartache Natasha talks about was not only relatable (who DOESN’T find heartache relatable?) but still fresh. This book tore me down when I was incredibly vulnerable, it was a very hard read, but also one that I wanted to continue forever. And then it helped me to put things back together again, but in a different, slightly healthier way. I came out as queer rather than lesbian (the book made me realise how different the two can be and that both were valid and it was okay for me to ID in whatever way feels right) and after a quick dip into WORSE eating disordered behaviours, I finally confronted my need to recover.

I don’t know when I finished the book… August? What I do know is that it’s November and I haven’t purged for two and a half months. I’m finally getting specialist treatment for my ED and of course that’s a big help in recovery, but there were days, particularly at the start of treatment, where I’d leave my session thinking I’d nip into the toilets and purge before my train arrived. Instead I would sit down and read this book and I would be sucked in. I’ve never identified with a protagonist so much before. Natasha is so honest and maybe this is just my interpretation (which would say more about me than the book!) but I think she makes it very clear how bizarre the logic of an eating disorder is – it’s as if you want something (food, normalcy, love) so much that you decide you need to not want it anymore. Of course it then takes an even bigger hold of you. I wouldn’t recommend this book to someone who hadn’t suffered with an eating disorder. It’s the best account of one that I’ve seen (which is funny, because often the ED parts of the book are pushed aside to make room for the feelings, but I think that’s why it’s so powerful – the ED is a symptom of something much bigger) but I couldn’t recommend it to someone who wouldn’t “get” that mindset. The book doesn’t walk you through what an eating disorder is and it doesn’t sugarcoat the ending and leave you thinking “that’s okay then, everything was fine in the end, she snapped out of it” the way a lot of eating disorder memoirs do. It’s honest. It’s a dose of tough love, a reminder about accountability and it has the potential to knock you off your feet and leave you there or pick up right up afterwards and bandage you up. It’s closest to Marya Hornbacher’s Wasted, I’d say, with a little sprinkle of The Bell Jar. That’s a push though, because it’s unlike anything else out there. So often in the queer community, there’s talk about the intersection between female partners’ bodies and eating disorders. It’s something a lot of us struggle with, but nobody wants to formally address it. Reading about it made me finally feel like my feelings were okay and that I could finally overcome them.

I am so thankful for this book. I want to keep on going with recovery so that ten years from now I’ll be alive and I’ll be able to say that this book saved my life. I feel like it already did more for me than years of therapy, medication and hospitalisation did though – when I feel like dipping deep into my ED again, I think back to how bleak this book got and how bleak my LIFE has been. Natasha’s honesty will blow you away, even if it does occasionally hit a nerve.

I will never, ever forget it, and I think writing this has made me convince myself to read it again. Third time! I’m so greatful to Natasha for writing this and I’ll sing its/her praises every chance I get.

Author of 'Yes'

Obsessive? Compulsive!

“The phone rang three times today and each time it was not her.”

A book for anyone who has been overwhelmed by the presence—and then the absence—of another person. And who hasn’t?

These are diary entries, true events, and yet they have a novelistic precision and a dramatic sense that reveal Natasha Holme as a natural, instinctive writer. She has an eye for telling details, an exact feeling for how much to tell (I’m assuming these diaries are somewhat edited) and a matter-of-fact honesty that keep her voice compelling even when the behaviour she’s describing is—frankly—bat-shit crazy.

We jump into the story without preamble. Natasha and Alex meet, as part of a larger group working in Germany. Everyone will recognise the little things that seem so important when we first feel attracted to someone—the ‘significant’ coincidences, similarities of taste—and there is a definite dramatic and sexual tension in the narrative as it follows the two girls’ tentative friendship. But even at this early stage, there is a warning sign: a reference to ‘beauty’ being the opposite of ‘big’.

The relationship is not consummated in Germany, and the uncertain dance continues, with the protagonists now separated. Natasha announces her intention of losing weight to impress Alex. At this stage Natasha is clearly in a state of heightened romantic and sexual feeling about life as a whole, and seems to be assessing everyone, male and female, in terms of their attractiveness to her. Although thinking constantly about Alex, and still in the throes of a serious crush on an old teacher (she has photos of her blown up and plastered on her walls), Natasha embarks on a programme of sexual experimentation with men, determined to bed five before she next sees Alex. At the same time she is becoming more involved with the Gay and Lesbian society at University, and we see her slightly obsessive tendencies manifesting in her catalogue of what she has learned about one member of the society she finds attractive, a fearlessly ‘out’ lesbian called Vikki. And Natasha’s determination to achieve any goal is demonstrated as the deadline for her bedding her five men approaches. These are warning signs of what is to come with her determination to lose weight.

About halfway through the book it starts to become less about Natasha’s relationships with people and more about her relationship with food and her weight. I admit I find this less gripping, but it nevertheless has a grimly compelling quality of its own—there were pages I found literally difficult to read as she describes what she does to herself to induce vomiting. The lists of food consumed are of far less interest than the chronicles of sexual and emotional misadventures, but they have their place as a measure of the obsession. And throughout she remains refreshingly honest—as when admitting that she ‘needs’ the male sexual harassment she gets at work to bolster her confidence—and amusingly self aware: “I shall soon be inflicting paralysis by conversation” (as she notes she is talking about food again).

This book is several things—an eye-opener for those of us who have never experienced what ‘thin=beautiful’ can do to someone’s self-image, a chronicle of awakening, an examination of the different things we look for in terms of intimacy, and a frankly terrifying description of what a sane and intelligent person can subject themselves to—but most of all it is a crisply-written, honest and unsentimental memoir that will strike many chords in responsive readers of any gender or sexual orientation.

“Hannah the Christian came to visit me at my request. I wish everyone were gay.” Without a single wasted word you know everything. Recommended.

Excellent read! I love the way the author was able to bring me into her world by making me feel like I was sneaking into her diary while actually carrying me through her story. There is a true story line and a definitive end. This is a great book to recommend for anyone battling with an eating disorder or with their sexuality. I was able to relate to some of the author’s experiences which brought me further into the book. It’s not easy to bear your heart and soul but the author has done an amazing job at letting the reader feel her happiness and hurt with her too.

All your dirty laundry i love it!!

I loved how raw and truthful this book was it tickled me in parts it was brilliant. […] definitely purchase this book its so funny, sad and real. Made me feel like a weird little teenager all over again.

Imagine you find someones diary… Are you the kind of person that would be unable to respect their privacy? Would you want to at least skim it for juicy details? Well I guess that’s me. I had just intended to check out the first chapter or two, but before I knew it, I found that I could not stop snooping in on the author’s life!

I also agree with another reviewer that pointed out how well this ‘diary’ was written. It contains fragments and snippets and is obviously very informal, but the author’s way of presenting the pieces of this story still manage to flow like a novel. I found myself invested in her story. At several points I wanted to slap Alex and help the author forget all about her!

[…] I’m impressed with the author’s ability to put it all out there, and her story telling is engaging.

What a fascinating insight into the life of a young girl at university, struggling with both her weight/eating and her sexuality. It really opened my eyes to a world that I really know nothing about, while I have felt unhappy about my weight sometimes and wish it was easier to lose those last few pounds I could never bring myself to use the extreme measures that Natasha relied on. It really helped to raise my awareness about eating disorders and how people who suffer from them might be feeling. I will be keenly awaiting the 2nd book.

How do you review someone’s diary? It’s really hard to do. I alternately want to shake the author, and hug her. I found it utterly fascinating and compelling. It’s an interesting look at someone discovering their sexuality. I don’t really know how to review it but I am glad that Natasha was willing to share her troubles and her life with us.

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