The Novel Cure: Literary prescription for over-eating


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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Over-eating

Cure: Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi

If you know that you ingest more foodstuffs than strictly necessary for optimal health, and indeed have developed some extra all-round padding, the answer is not to go on a diet. You'll only make yourself miserable when it fails. Over-eating is generally nothing to do with greed, but a search for comfort, or distraction, due to upset or anxiety; and no amount of battling with food groups or fasting will make a difference if the emotional need remains unmet.

Dr Pereira, the portly, widowed editor of the culture page of Lisbon's evening newspaper, misses the link between his daily omelette aux fines herbes and the politically oppressive regime under which he lives. It's 1938 and, in the shadow of Fascist Spain, nobody dares to print the real news. Instead, Pereira talks to a photograph of his dead wife before filling his page with translations of 19th-century French literature, then tucks into said omelette at his local café, washed down with several glasses of sugary lemonade, topped off with coffee and cigars.

That the omelettes are having a deleterious effect on his waistline is clear to Pereira, but it's only when a doctor at an out-of-town spa holds up a mirror to his psyche that Pereira sees his comfort eating for the shield that it is. Behind it lurks the alarming truth: that Franco has made a mockery of his job, and therefore of him. Salvation arrives in the form of a young couple at the café who are involved with the underground resistance movement... Soon, Pereira's life has meaning again, for he has regained the "chieftainship" of his soul. And instead of omelettes and cigars, seafood salads and mineral water are the order of the day.

If you have a tendency to over-indulge, take time out of your usual schedule to probe your motives, like Dr Pereira. Look to your heart, not your stomach, for the reason why.