Book Review: Shell is an honest and moving telling of a woman's struggle with disordered eating

Dec 19 2017, 5:20 pm

Shell: A Memoir is a moving chronicle of a woman’s last year after being diagnosed with renal failure due to a 32-year struggle with anorexia and bulimia. Told through personal, journal-styled blog posts and original poetry, Shell is a raw and revealing look into Michelle Stewart’s last year.

The full title of the memoir is Shell: One Woman’s Final Year after a lifelong struggle with Anorexia and Bulimia. Stewart recorded her last 12 months through blog posts that eventually were compiled to make up this heart-wrenching and revealing book. Along with her blog posts, a collection of poetry composed by Stewart has been added to fill the pages of this yearlong journey.

From the very first pages, Stewart’s voice is gripping. The words she chooses are honest and sometimes abrasive, as she never shies away from sharing what she is really feeling about her experience with her diagnosis and what follows. The unrelenting candor in the novel is refreshing and sometimes a bit upsetting, but Stewart repeatedly explains that she wants to share all of her experience, not just the good. She refuses to sugarcoat any aspect of her journey and is instead frank about every aspect of her struggle as she speaks directly to her audience.


Image: Karen Flello

Some pages are enlightening while others are hard to turn due to the more sensitive subjects Stewart tackles without any apprehension. While at moments it’s uncomfortable, by leaving nothing out, Stewart paints a complete and honest look at the healthcare system in Canada, addressing not only its triumphs but its downfalls.

While this memoir is wrought with details about Stewart’s struggle with disordered eating, this is only a fraction of what her journey is really about. She describes her experience throughout her last year as “transformative” in ways she never could have anticipated. The year provides introspection and reflection that is relatable and reveals so much about the human condition.

Within the pages of Shell, Stewart reflects on everything from the flawed healthcare system to the problem with materialism. The introspection that Stewart’s unique point of view produces is nothing short of breathtaking. While some of what she reflects on is sometimes hard to take, there is an undeniable reality to her thoughts that is troubling but, more often than not, encouraging.

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 12.27.32 AM

Image: Karen Flello

The poetry present in Shell is a bittersweet look into the world and thoughts that Stewart doesn’t explicitly share within her blog posts. As this poetry wasn’t shared originally on her blog, it provides a unique reading experience to those who might have followed Stewart’s original blog.

Stewart takes full responsibility for her physical state, acknowledging she alone could have made a change in her life. She refused to call herself ‘brave’ or glorify her story, instead wanting simply to share her experience as honestly and openly as possible. She explains that “coming clean about my journey has been so very healing.”

2013 Christmas at Karens 002

Image: Karen Flello

Shell is a look into the life and thoughts of an intelligent, passionate, loving individual who just so happened to struggle with disordered eating for a good portion of her life. The reflections present in this memoir were a privilege to read. I strongly suggest anyone to take the time to witness Stewart’s words, as it provides a revealing and refreshing look at not only disordered eating but life in general.

Stewart’s memoir shattered many of my own preconceptions of disordered eating and is bound to shatter yours. It’s not only a page-turner that I barely was able to put down, but I truly got lost in how Stewart grew more open and honest as her last year developed. As Stewart transforms, so does the reader.

You can find Shell: One Woman’s Final Year after a lifelong struggle with Anorexia and Bulimia online or in-store now.


Vancity Buzz Arts Facebook ad

DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

+ News