Matthew Reddin

Sarah Wilson attempts to tackle anxiety in “First, We Make the Beast Beautiful”


Sarah Wilson attempts to articulate the vague expanse of anxiety in her new book, but whether it succeeds, depends on your subjectivity.



This is a strange book.

I picked it up because I like Sarah Wilson. I got to know of her through a column she wrote in the Sunday Age magazine where she experimented with things to improve her life. From that I read her blog, which has some handy travel and hiking tips on it, and I have even looked at her I Quit Sugar website, although I could never do something so drastic as quitting sugar.

First, We Make the Beast Beautiful is gorgeous to look at, a hardcover with no pesky dust jacket, an amazing mauve octopus on dark navy with bright orange spots, silver text with no caps. The inside cover is Day-Glo orange, nice big margins and pictures of octopuses in different poses above each new section. Printed on FSC paper, truly lovely to behold. You can see why it wooed me.

So, given both that I like Sarah and that someone close to me had been diagnosed and medicated for anxiety, and also I was in a quaint bookshop in the middle of a three-day deluge in Byron Bay, I felt I had to buy it.

I sat in a chair in our guest house to wait out the rain and got into it.

This book seemed to be a collection of oversharing mixed with miscellaneous people’s theories. If it gives even one person with anxiety or other mental health issues help, then it is a good thing.

The book is described as “a new story about anxiety”, and in it Sarah tells us that 11.2% of the Australian population have anxiety-related problems (section 46, page 117). I don’t have anxiety, but I do have some of the traits that Sarah seems to tell us are present in anxiety. That is, I hate crowded trams so I get off and walk, I hate red or blue lights in the bedroom when staying in hotels so I always cover them up (I also privately think of them as vampire lights, I’m not sure why, perhaps because they suck away at my sleep?) and I get irritated by jangly music, dripping taps, wobbly tables… but I think of these things as just life, not any particular medical issue. I just deal with them and get on with life, and I guess that is what this book is trying to say: some of us can deal and get on, others of us can’t. I’m not sure what I think of all that; I’m not a psychologist, so I’ll let that one go.

This book seemed to me to be a rambling collection of oversharing mixed with miscellaneous people’s theories. While I didn’t find that it helped me much, if it gives even one person with anxiety or other mental health issues help, then it is a good thing. If you need to feel like you are not suffering anxiety alone and you want to understand how other people are managing, this may be a good book for you, as will Beyond Blue and Lifeline. It will also look really fine on a coffee table.


Matthew Reddin

Matt Reddin has been writing nonsense about film, TV, books, music and live theatre for a touch over 20 years. He’s gone from the halcyon days of street press in Perth, to regional dailies, national magazines and major metropolitan newspapers. Now, in between bouts of sporadically yelling at clouds, he vents his creative spleen at

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