THE FOOD OF LOVE: A BOOK REVIEW

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It’s not often I start a book and have absolutely no idea what it is about. NetGalley emailed me saying I’d been pre-approved for ‘The Food of Love’ and as that morning I’d just finished a rather graphic collection of Stephen King’s short stories I thought this gentle-sounding novel would be my soothing tonic.

‘The Food of Love’ – such a safe, innocuous title I immediately pictured romance centred on a taverna in Greece or a spy/love story set in Spain, the nights hot and with many evening scenes at a half-lit tapas restaurant. 

I could not have been more mistaken, although my theory seemed to hold sway for the very first part of the book which starts with a family on holiday in the warm climes of Florida. Freya Braithwaite and her husband Lockie are walking through Old Naples one evening with their daughters, Charlotte and Lexi. Charlotte is quietly confident albeit cautious and sensible whilst her younger sister is the adventurous one who begs to be allowed to swim in the dark. Even as she is being warned about the dangers, including that of sharks, she refuses to obey and disappears off the sea wall into the blackness below.

This brief flashback sets the picture of a perfect happy harmonious family where love and laughter are the norm in their idyllic lifestyle. Eight years later the book begins properly with the Braithwaite family at home in the UK and quickly I became engrossed in their lives; Freya is a freelance food writer (extremely pertinent to the book), whilst her husband is a freelance photographer. The family are captured with poetic, lyrical ease and in small sketches the author reveals the everyday, the ordinary wonderful life. Of course, as with all good books I was by this stage on tether hooks, just waiting for the turn in the story, waiting for the drama, the chaos.

A phone call from the school provides the catalyst to the ensuing novel where a normal meeting with a teacher unveils the potential problem with one of her daughters. Freya’s gnawing anxiety ahead of the meeting is portrayed with truth and I could easily imagine myself in her position and Freya’s insistent rejection of the teacher’s insinuations is equally believable – there was no way Lexi could have an issue with food! 

From hereon the book becomes a harrowing, even punishing read at times, as Lexi’s anorexia is dramatically discovered and her health rapidly deteriorates. The effects of her starvation are candidly described and the catalogue of Lexi’s increasingly critical health problems are meticulously revealed. Freya’s confusion, desperation and guilt is brilliantly captured whilst Lockie’s down-to-earth, angry reaction causes friction for the first time in their nineteen year marriage. He finds it increasingly impossible to accept what he sees as ‘pandering’ to Lexi as she undergoes various treatments. Furthermore the tension that has existed between the siblings continues to fester, especially since Charlotte finds herself sidelined, the milestones in her own life forgotten, ignored.

Although told from the third person perspective I identified closely with the characters, especially so with Freya and Lexi. The collapse of all their lives is told in raw albeit loving detail with the absurd amidst the calamity skilfully interwoven. Personally I found the topic uncomfortable, disturbing even and I would not be surprised if this holds true for many potential readers, however I can offer the assurance that it is handled with finesse and control; ultimately it is a book about four people thrown into the unknown and how we function as an individual, as a couple or as a family when faced with adversity, when the unimaginable becomes a reality and to what extent love can be the solution. 

I read the book in two days and found it, to use that well-worn phrase, ‘unputdownable’ and this was partly down to the ‘countdown’  paragraphs at the end of each chapter. Set some time in the future, the clock starts with eight hours left as Freya prepares for the life-changing event, and together with Charlotte, she is desperately trying to compose a letter to Lexi. Events, memories from the past are unveiled as they struggle to compose their missives. The burning question is of course whether Lexi is alive or dead?

‘The Food of Love’ is a compelling, heart-wrenching, even painful book but all the same a heart-warming and rewarding novel which I can highly recommend to anyone with an interest in so-called ‘domestic’ dramas. 

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a honest and impartial review.

netgalley

Rating:                          4 out of 5 stars.

Publisher:                     Lake Union Publishing 

Release Date:              1st December 2016                               

Links:                             Amazon UK or   Amazon US 

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44 thoughts on “THE FOOD OF LOVE: A BOOK REVIEW

    • Annika Perry says:

      Just so long as it’s a good surprise! 😀 Sometimes I’ve started a pick with a promising title only for it to fall flat…this was definitely the opposite. Also want to say how much I like your seasonal Xmas tree emoji!

  1. Bun Karyudo says:

    It sounds like an interesting read, but I too would never have guessed from the title that some parts of the content were harrowing. I wonder if it might be an idea for the author to tweak the title a little to give a better indication of the contents.

  2. L. T. Garvin, Author says:

    Annika, this sounds like an extraordinary book. I like how the suspense starts at the beginning with the daughter diving into the sea and then the countdown paragraphs that you mentioned going into the conclusion. I’ve not ever seen that in a book before…very neat device. I can imagine the pain in families that must deal with anorexia, that would be extremely difficult. All in all, I would say it sounds like a compelling book. Great review 🙂

    • Annika Perry says:

      Lana, the beginning felt almost mystical and quickly painted a picture of the family a few years earlier and of course built in that sense of foreboding around Lexi. I have read books with a countdown interludes, but only in thrillers. It was used so well here to create a sense of tension and prevailing sense of possible doom. Thank you so much for your great comment.

  3. Sherri says:

    Great review Annika. I would have had the same expectations as you, so would also have been in for a big surprise. This sounds like a gritty and gripping read with a pertinent message for our times. Definitely one to look out for, thank you 🙂 xxx

    • Annika Perry says:

      Thank you, Sherri! 😀 Gritty is the word! Very much so in certain sections but not too much, the humour also worked so well, often laconic, dark but plausible. If you read it I would be very interested what you make of the book. Hope you’re having a good day.😀

  4. restlessjo says:

    It sounds like a well written book, Annika. I think the area of book reviews is a difficult one because you don’t want to give away too much of the story line. I do have a little personal experience of anorexia and I can well imagine it driving a wedge in a marriage.

    • Annika Perry says:

      I still find it quite a balancing act writing reviews and wanting to share the book but not mentioning too much of the actual story – this one was trickier than most. When I posted this I was expecting a couple of people perhaps to say that they knew someone who has had anorexia but never excepted so many such replies – it’s very saddening. Anything where a child’s life is at risk this will test the best of marriages, as Freya and Lockie’s is in the book, however it is not so black and white and made me question and think about relationships and attitudes as a whole.

    • Annika Perry says:

      It is a strange world where the very essence of our survival – food – becomes such an anathema to some that they cannot tolerate it. I must say reading this book has made me view mealtimes and eating differently – and even be thankful for the ability to eat!

      • smilecalm says:

        our direct interface with nature
        through nutrition is quite amazing!
        considering all the manipulations, modifications, additives and processes to food in our “modern age”, it’s a wonder our bodies have adapted so well
        to these new manifestations of foods 🙂

  5. Anonymous says:

    Good review Annika – I don’t normally read books on subjects like this as I struggle with the content but having read your excellent review I am in two minds about reading this one. Who knows – I might just search this one out.

    Mike

    • Annika Perry says:

      Thank you, Mike. I can understand why you are in two minds about this…and to be honest I might have been as well before if I’d read what it was about however I am so glad I did read the book. Definitely an engrossing book and I’ve learnt so much and it’s stayed with me.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Julie, it is very well-written and not overtly sentimental – however it is raw and I felt shaken at times. I am so sorry you have had close contact with some of these issues within your family; that must have been so hard. This book might reawaken some these memories so I’d think carefully before deciding to read it. That I say this only shows what a powerful book it is.

  6. Jacqui Murray says:

    That is heartbreaking. I worried periodically about anorexia with my daughter–for no good reason, only because it was one of those problems for young girls. This sounds like an amazing, up-close story.

    Just out of curiosity: Why did you give it 4 instead of 5 stars?

    • Annika Perry says:

      Jacqui, that must have been a worry for you and it is wiser to be aware of these issues than not. What I hadn’t realised was the extent that sufferers go to hide their anorexia so often the families are unaware of a problem. So glad your daughter was fine. It is extremely up-close story – I felt totally immersed in their lives.

      As for the rating, I am perhaps a bit mean on my five stars but I give this to really exceptional books – ‘A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding’ being one such epic scope of a book which was superbly written. This book is very well-written with an engaging story but not on the same playing field as the like of Jackie Copleton’s book. Of course this is my opinion only!

      Wishing you a most brilliant weekend, Jacqui!!😀😃

  7. Curt Mekemson says:

    Um, I think I’ll stick with Stephen King, Annika. I figure I had enough family drama when I was growing up. None-the-less, I liked your well written review. I could see where the book would be hard to put down. –Curt

  8. JC says:

    Wow, I didn’t want your review to end. Stephen King would like this book. l will have to find a copy, especially before ‘he who’s name we won’t mention’ starts banning books.

    • Annika Perry says:

      JC, sometimes I worry my reviews are not going to end!! 😀 I can keep on writing and writing but try to limit myself to three pages (handwritten) – so glad you like it this much. I fear its length might put potential readers off my review! This is very different from your usual literature but I would love to know what you make of it.

  9. Miriam says:

    Certainly a far cry from Stephen Kimg! The story sounds emotional and intriguing, with a combination of scenarios that I can identify with. I lost a dear friend to anorexia many years ago and still remember the family’s turmoil at the time and what an emotional period it was. Great review Annika, thank you.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Miriam, oh no, I cannot imagine how the family and close friends coped with the loss of your friend. The book was so well-written I can understand better how the disease can take hold and actually result in a death but I’m so saddened to read that you’ve experienced this personally. Thank you for sharing and also for you kind words.

      • Miriam says:

        You’re most welcome Annika. It was a long time ago but its still fresh in my mind. And over the years I have remained good friends with the mother of my once best friend. xo

    • Annika Perry says:

      I can understand that you’d want to leave this kind of become well alone if you’d worked in such situations for real. It must be heart-breaking at times. Well-crafted is the word as at no point does the author become over-sentimental, drift away with emotion and this clarity and consistency is retained throughout – hence the walloping emotional rollercoaster rider for the reader. Wishing you a happy and creative weekend, Diana. 😀

  10. Sheila says:

    I love it whenever a book is completely different from what you thought it might be. This sounds like a good one – thank you for letting us know about it!

    • Annika Perry says:

      So often in today’s world you often feel you know the whole story / characters before starting to read a book or watch a film…This was refreshingly unusual and packed a punch. Thank you so much for your comment, Sheila. 😀

  11. delphini510 says:

    Amazingly written review. I feel I have read the book..until I realise, I have no idea what is going to happen. The charachters are obviously very strong or you could not have put them forward like this. The problem with Lexi overtakes the family. A very current and difficult subject. I feel I really would like to read this – maybe on Christmas wish list.:)
    Mirja

    • Annika Perry says:

      The phrase was everywhere in book reviews in the newspapers here for many years – although that might have been a while ago! 😀 It’s a bit of a clumsy phrase but so apt – in this case I put the book down at night to sleep, only to pick it up again and promise myself another chapter or two! Wishing you a lovely weekend, Jill. 😃

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