Fat Chance by Louise McSharry

Penguin Ireland

Louise McSharry has lived quite a life already in her first 33 years, hence the memoir at such a young age. Having faced an unconventional and often traumatic childhood, loves and jobs lost and won, a public battle with cancer and subsequent fertility issues there’s plenty of material there to fill out a few hundred pages. But what sets this book apart is its focus on the more or less everyday struggles the writer has dealt with, struggles which will resonate with its target audience of young women and potentially help them gain confidence in their own lives.

A 2FM DJ, Louise McSharry is a name you probably recognise; in fact readers on this side of the Shannon are probably familiar with her from her earlier career on iRadio. Long before her revealing and honest interview that made the country fall in love with her on The Late Late Show, talking about her diagnosis with Hodgkin’s Lymphona, she was a determined and talented presenter on the Galway based radio station, having worked there in various roles since its inception.

It was her shock redundancy from the station that dealt her the greatest blow in her adult life, besides even her health issues and family problems. For someone who spent a great deal of her life feeling not good enough thanks to upheaval in her family life as a child and some bullying as a teenager, she was finally in a job that she considered her calling, in the station she had helped to engineer to success from when it began. Anyone who has begun their career during the recession and worked hard to get going will empathise, and it’s aFat Chance credit to McSharry’s honesty that she doesn’t hold back in her criticism, and doesn’t sugar-coat her feelings of resentment. All of her stories are tinged with naked emotion and open honesty, which is a refreshing and authentic approach to take.

Fat Chance gives a really interesting insight into the life of an individual cancer sufferer’s life. She stresses that it’s her personal story, which is important; we all know that the disease strikes in many different degrees and reaction to treatment varies from patient to patient. Like the RTE documentary broadcast last year, which followed her from more or less diagnosis to remission, her account doesn’t hold anything back and is at once hopeful, fearful and insightful. The same is true of the anecdotes about her life in America; while the more unique aspects of her childhood are addressed – her father dying at a young age, her mother’s descent into alcoholism, moving in with her aunt and uncle who were struggling to make ends meet – it’s the more universal struggles that get rather more attention, such was the effect on her self-worth and her self-esteem. The book isn’t called Fat Chance for nothing.

McSharry spends a lot of time on her weight, perhaps more than any other subject. It’s an issue that has overshadowed everything in her life, which again will be a familiar problem for a great deal of the readers of her book faced with the perceived pressures from society in this internet age. On the plus side she perfected the art of make-up, a skill that helped cheer her up in many hours of need, on the negative, jeers from anyone from drunk strangers to her own mother would send her into a spiral of self-loathing. There are wise words to be given from her experience, which will no doubt be of comfort to young women and men who feel shackled by the appearance they feel is not up to societal standards.

Fat Chance is an engaging and observant read about growing up and facing challenges with bravery and a dose of humour. In addition to the conventional chapter structures, chronological and subject led, there are nice little listicles, pictures and other images that break up the narrative. Although anyone will get something out of the read – the subjects touched upon from sexism to body acceptance to serious illness are those that should be faced head on by one and all – but the audience who will maybe get the most out of it would be women in their late teens and early twenties who would benefit from the sage advice of an older sister who has seen it all, and then some.

  • Aoife B. Burke
  • First Published in The Tuam Herald on 29 June 2016

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