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The opposite of Luna Lovegood: Evanna Lynch takes to the page

Book review: The Harry Potter star writes about eating disorders in an honest way

Evanna Lynch’s memoir The Opposite of Butterfly Hunting has darkness, alongside light and hope. Photograph: Gerardo Mora/Getty Images
The Opposite Of Butterfly Hunting; The Tragedy and the Glory of Growing Up
Author: Evanna Lynch
ISBN-13: 9781472283016
Publisher: Headline
Guideline Price: £20

We know, from a proverb that is not supposed to be about literature, not to judge a book by its cover, but covers are, in this image-conscious era, more often like windows to a book’s soul.

A forest scene at night, splashes of colour against black, a distant moon overhead – this is what Lucy Rose has done for the cover of Evanna Lynch’s debut memoir, The Opposite of Butterfly Hunting, and, quite aside from being striking, it tells us what to expect. There will be darkness here, alongside light and hope, and it will not be – as it so easily could be, even, as Lynch notes herself, “a decade after all the noise and excitement died down” – a behind-the-scenes guide to the Harry Potter movie-verse.

This 450-page memoir serves as an extended correction for how Lynch, and her recovery from anorexia, have been represented

The reason, after all, that many people will pick up this book from the Termonfeckin-raised, London-based actress is her role as Luna Lovegood in the second half of the film franchise. Lynch, already a devoted fan of the series, was drawn to the character as soon as she appeared on the page; being eventually cast as the quirky, dreamy Ravenclaw was like a fairytale come to life.

It all seemed even more inspirational when it was revealed that she had been corresponding with author JK Rowling long before the casting process began; Lynch, struggling with anorexia at the time, was encouraged to get better so she could audition for the role. How magical!


Lynch is strongly resistant to the way stories like this can be “simplified and trivialised to a neat, inspiring, bite-sized narrative”, and in a way this 450-plus-page memoir serves as an extended correction for how she, and her recovery, have been represented. While she has frequently spoken about the topic, hoping to make a difference, she realises now that “nobody wanted to hear about the nuances of eating disorders and recovery, they just wanted you to tell them in a quavering voice that you’d been moments from death, and to prove it with a series of shocking photographs”.

But it’s also about how the world in general treats – or mistreats – eating disorders, and in this sense it’s not about what it’s like to be scrutinised by strangers (how can they possibly be crueller to you than you are?) but about being a vulnerable human in a great deal of pain and unable to get the help you need. Lynch is critical of medical treatments that focus on weight gain rather than the psychological suffering, the sense of “worthlessness” that finds solace in the “gruelling and relentless” patterns of anorexic behaviour.

More than most eating disorder memoirs – the sort that often have one-word titles that half-glamorise the illness, like Thin or Perfect, the sort Lynch rightly notes are frequently read in fascinated awe rather than horror – this makes a sharp distinction between physical recovery (not being at risk of starvation) and emotional recovery (not obsessively hating yourself).


Lynch writes beautifully about the deeply addictive art of self-loathing, heightened by being a girl in a still-sexist society in which becoming a woman seems both terrifying and tragic. Part of her self-acceptance now rests on feminist principles: “I don’t want to be another person spreading hatred towards women in a society that has already profited too much from the pain of the female body.”

Another part comes from choosing creativity over perfectionism, its “swirling, wild, mysterious language” and its need for “light and breath and space”, all things antithetical to the rigid routines an eating disorder demands. Echoing Elizabeth Gilbert in her creativity guide, Big Magic, Lynch has a flash of self-awareness about how “mundane” and “overwhelmingly boring” it is to be stuck in misery and navel-gazing. She knows now that this “fierce, determined, obsessive energy I possessed [was] something that could be channelled into healthier pursuits”; she also rightly wonders whether knowing this as a child in hospital viewed entirely as a collection of symptoms could have spared her some pain along the way.

Despite the emotional truths they contain, there is occasionally some repetition in Lynch’s musings; this is a small flaw in a book that otherwise pays close attention to language and details, and is particularly sharp when explaining Irish culture to a wider audience (Mass, potatoes, the ubiquity of RTÉ news, the strange blend of mistrust and awe towards the English, the psychology of the Irish mammy). This is a voice I would love to read more of.

Claire Hennessy

Claire Hennessy

Claire Hennessy, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in reviewing young-adult literature