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Review: The Hunger and the Howling of Killian Lone, By Will Storr

Can't stand the hero? Leave the kitchen

Will Storr is a versatile, imaginative, committed long-form journalist with a populist touch. He is often brave with regard to his article choices. A 2011 piece on the rape of men in Uganda was recognised with an Amnesty Media Award last year, while his non-fiction book The Heretics, in which he tackles contemporary heretical beliefs, was released in February. To have non-fiction and fiction books published within a month of each other is impressive, but it's what you might expect from such a talented, ambitious writer.

Like much of Storr's best non-fiction, The Hunger and The Howling of Killian Lone is told in the first person. Lone is a bullied, shy case-study in low self-esteem. His mother ritually humiliates him because she hates men, we are told. His father is a passive spectator to the maelstrom of his domestic life, but Lone is saved by his great-aunt Dorothy. She teaches him cooking, he shows prodigal talent, and wins a minor apprenticeship with Max Mann, his Michelin-starred culinary hero. Mann turns out to be a sociopath, and Lone is given a choice: does he play by the rules to get ahead, or cheat and risk betraying the trust of those who love him?

The joy of this book is in anticipating and discovering where Storr will take the story next. While on the face of it, this is a fairytale, with a safe, tried-and-tested formula, there is more than a little Patrick Süskind and some of the more experimental end of the men's magazine market in its pages, pushing it into the darker reaches of the myth-making spectrum. Such ingredients could be a gratuitous overture to a specific demographic if Storr weren't primarily concerned with what motivates young men: insecurity and the desire to be recognised. When Storr tackles Lone's self-loathing, his realisation that his heroes are self-constructed stereotypes, and the fact that no amount of success can change who we are, the writing is at its strongest.

This is a fine, well-crafted debut. The sentences never stutter. Many of the kitchen anecdotes – often involving physical and verbal abuse – are based on real incidents. To research it, Storr worked double shifts at London restaurants over a four-year writing period. That clearly wasn't easy, yet this is painless entertainment – one of many reasons to sing its praises.

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