By Nick Spalding
Zoe was a stunner in her college days, but the intervening decades have added five stone, and removed most of her self-esteem. Greg's rugby-playing days are well and truly behind him, thanks to countless pints of beer and chicken curry. When Elise, a radio DJ and Zoe's best friend, tells them about a new competition, it seems like the perfect opportunity to turn their lives around. Fat Chance will pit six hefty couples against one another to see who can collectively lose the most weight and walk away with a €50,000 prize. So begins six months of abject misery, tears, and frustration ‒ that just might turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to them ‒ in another laugh-out-loud look at the way we live now from bestselling author Nick Spalding.
I bought this because I saw some discussion of it on Twitter.
There are some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments in this book. For me they were mainly near the beginning, although there are other amusing lines throughout the rest of the story. And for that I thank you, Nick Spalding.
It was a brave move in this age of PC-awareness, writing about two fat people trying to get slim and I did have several moments of being uncomfortable as I was reading. Our couple, Zoe and Greg, enter a competition along with four other pairs, with a prize of £50,000 for the couple with the greatest weight loss. But although the author shows the ridiculousness of faddy diets and gimmicky exercise machines, he puts his contestants in a number of quite dangerous situations without comment: they go into this competition with no medical or professional trainer help; ten weeks into the competition they have an exercise bike challenge to race against the other couples to see which is the fastest to cycle 15 km; about 15 weeks in he has them running an 8 km fun run with one week’s notice, which with varying degrees of success all ten contestants manage – even the two over 60, even the guy who weighs nearly 30 stone; he has Greg running in brand new shoes and when he gets blisters he blames it on the shoes being cheap, rather than new and not broken in. Six weeks into the competition Greg hires a personal trainer and although his first day doesn’t end well, he jogs 300 yards “comfortable, breathing evenly and feeling good about myself” – this man is nearly 19 stone and incredibly unfit – he can jog 300 yards and feels good? Also the speed of weight loss seems a bit unhealthy.
There were other things that bothered me. There are several uses of the word “rape”: “Now it just looks like he’s raping me with a plastic chair”, “it was a miracle I didn’t rape poor old Gregory”, “Ever wanted to rape a bicycle?” These are throw-away uses of a word that has a lot of deep and negative meaning – it is just plain unacceptable to use it these days and could easily have been substituted. A lesbian couple are two of the contestants – great, but don’t keep referring to them as “the lesbians” as though this is the only way of defining them. Greg feels the need to prove his manliness: “I’ve done the one thing that no straight man with any ounce of self-respect should even contemplate. Dieting.” – what, only women and gay men diet? When his personal trainer calls him a poof he redoubles his efforts to prove that he is “not a poof, wuss, fairy, or blouse” (his personal trainer’s style is also to insult him by calling him “lard-arse, jelly-tits, jiggle-puffs, porks-a-lot, the gutmeister” and so on – seriously?) – you could say this is just part of the character, but I think an author has a duty to redress this somehow in the book, even if it’s via another character. The protagonists admit they don’t get to know the other contestants, but they make an instant assessment of one couple – who they immediately label chavs and then make several references throughout the story about them nicking stuff (sort of in jest, as there wasn’t any evidence they were actually nicking stuff). I kept expecting there to be some redemption for this poor couple – they were going to do something wonderful or helpful or something to make the protagonists ashamed of their stereotypical views (although they complained at stereotypical views aimed at them) – but no, the last we hear of the ‘chavs’ was an assumption they were stealing radio equipment.
The diary format doesn’t work. The entries are far too long, too detailed and too personal for a log that is meant to be written for the producers of the show. A lot of it is written in present tense (although tenses tend to be a bit mixed up) and are more a stream of consciousness.
The writing of the two characters is too similar. You could be dropped into Zoe’s or Greg’s chapter and not know until you start picking up clues as to whether it was his or hers, and the first person point of view sometimes goes askew.
I have been very critical. Lots of people like it. It is an easy read with some very amusing parts. The writing is smooth. The relationship between Zoe and Greg is great – and it’s lovely to have a book where there is no great conflict between the main characters.
Editorial Input & Design
Certainly copy-edited and proofread, but maybe not enough guidance at the developmental stage. There are a couple of timing issues that a copy-editor might have pointed out. There is a reference to the sex offender register in what I would guess would be 1995, but the register didn’t come into force until 1997. A copy-editor might also have queried the use of the word ‘rape’ and other unfortunate terms.
Cover: Lovely and appropriate.
Internal design: The e-book is well formatted.
Book Clubs & Reviews
Too light to be a good recommendation, although there are several discussion points: stereotypes, how people come to gradually put on weight, exercise and diet fads, celebrities, the writing. But be careful, there are things that will offend as well.
What others are saying: Amazon UK readers give it 4.5 stars (359 reviewers); Amazon US readers give if 4.4 stars (119 reviewers); Goodreads readers give it 3.81 stars (334 ratings).