This is the story I return to whenever I’m trying to write. An intensely spare yet entirely convincing tale of transformation, ‘Starver’ maintains the curious reserve of a folktale whilst relating deeply personal events. A teenager watches as her sister starves herself into the shape of an eel, the horror of ridging spines and webbing fingers juxtaposed against the dailiness of home and school. It’s a story which wears its grotesquerie lightly, hitting you with delicacy at unexpected moments: “Her face had changed too, her nose flattening out, nostrils thinning to lines.”
Fen is a collection built around liminality and the instability of bodies in the wild and ‘Starver’ exemplifies everything I love about Johnson’s writing. It is a story that slips and slides, eel-like, gently horrendous and deeply tender all at once.
Collected in Fen, Jonathan Cape, 2016