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What is the Matter with Mary Jane?

By Daisy Waugh

‘When she was twenty, she died. Like so many neurotic and competitive teenage girls, she caught the slimming bug, but she was unlucky and she caught it badly. She starved herself to death…’

Anna Burton is beautiful and clever. She has grown up in some privilege and succeeds at everything she does, but she is secretive and awkward, and doesn’t make friends easily. Alone in a large old Rectory in rural Shropshire with her widowed mother Isobel, she retreats into her books – and her dieting. When she goes to University, the situation escalates. Isobel is wrapped up in her painting and fails to notice that her daughter is starving.

Her brother Rufus, thirteen years her senior and living in London with his capable girlfriend Christine, comes back to the family home to cope with the fallout of Anna’s death. His mother is traumatized, full of guilt and unable to function. With money short Christine persuades them to hire out rooms in their beautiful house for overnight bed and breakfast, advertising for someone to help. When thin, malnourished Katie Dye walks into the interview, Christine knows she has found the right girl. Maybe Katie can somehow appease Isobel’s guilt? But Christine could not anticipate her boyfriend’s response to a girl who so reminds him of his dead sister, and the extent of his own trauma…

In this extraordinarily confident debut Daisy Waugh, the granddaughter of Evelyn Waugh, addresses the tortured issue of Anorexia Nervosa with great perception and empathy in one of the few novels to deal with this terrible disease.

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