What do you do with a husband who says that the cakes you’re baking for your new business are “fundamentally poor owing to a lack of imagination in their creator”? Well, if you’re Lizzie Prain, 53-year-old heroine of Natalie Young’s new book, you whack him across the back of the head with a spade, axe him up, butcher his body, and then eat it in various recipes.
Lizzie and Jacob’s thirtyish years of marriage hadn’t been right for a long time. She thought he didn’t listen and had no feelings. He had been depressed for a long time. Both had tried to leave each other, but hadn’t been able to follow it through. Even his suicide attempt was a half-hearted act doomed to failure. The two had met while she was at art school and he was a sculptor laid up with a broken leg who needed a hand around the home. They had drifted into marriage, and then, with their inability to have children and loss of both of their jobs their marriage had lost its path.
Season to Taste or How to Eat Your Husband marries horrific scenes of butchery with calm domestic recipes and jigsaw pieces of disappointed marriage. Young writes very well, but Lizzie and Jacob remain half-formed as characters, Lizzie as pale and imprecise as her frizzy halo of hair, and Jacob even more elusive.
The idea of cannibalism in literature is not original per se – the theme has recurred through history, from Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and Dante’s Inferno through Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief and Thomas Harris’s Hannibal series. It is similarly used on a regular basis in the movie industry: Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover; Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s Delicatessen among others. But what is unusual is the packaging of the grotesque with a brisk list of practical instructions and a fragrance of bouquet garni lingering in the air.
The scenes of hacking the body, preparing it and consuming it turned this reviewer’s stomach. What was far more interesting was the story of a defeated marriage told in fragments. The flashbacks to Lizzie’s childhood are intriguing, and more of them would have added colour to her personality. The interpolation of first-person accounts from the point of view of Lizzie’s neighbour’s son Tom are chronologically ahead of the rest of the story and a little incongruous.
Still, for those with a strong stomach, there is a convincing portrait of suburban disappointment hidden in the gruesome wrapper.
Order for £10.99 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030