From what I can tell, the title of The Earth Does Not Get Fat (published by UWA, April 2018), the debut novel of Melbourne based Australian writer Julia Prendergast, takes its inspiration from an old poem of the same name, composed by the Ngoni people of Malawi, in Southern Africa. The poem suggests the Earth will continue to want the dead, to consume those buried within it, until the end of time.
Given some one hundred and seven billion people have lived and died on Earth since the arrival of humans, it would seem the world is still in good shape, so to speak. Despite the poem’s references to death though, it is typically recited at weddings. Yet no weddings take place, or are even hinted at, in this novel. In fact at first glance it could be said The Earth Does Not Get Fat is devoid of joy.
Chelsea, the teenage protagonist, leads a life few would envy. While her peers may enjoy a carefree existence, Chelsea acts as full time carer to her mother who battles a debilitating depression, and a grandfather who is afflicted with dementia. She seldom goes to school, though she tries to get there when she can if only to find out how far behind she is with her classes.
The Earth Does Not Get Fat pulls no punches with its vivid, often confronting, depictions of depression and dementia, and of passed traumas. Depending on your perspective, you may see this as Prendergast calling it as it is, or merely heaping on the misery. Rays of sunshine are far and few between, and perhaps only show in Chelsea’s resilience in the face of the unrelenting adversity. Those hoping for a happy ending however, will find it to be as elusive as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.