The Good Plain Cook by Bethan Roberts
|The Good Plain Cook by Bethan Roberts|
|Genre: Women's Fiction|
|Reviewer: Katherine Stanton|
|Summary: An old-fashioned but scandalous tale of a young girl discovering herself through her job as a cook for a rich, bohemian family.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: June 2009|
|Publisher: Serpent's Tail|
This year, instead of choosing a beach read full of sex and scandal, perhaps you should indulge in something a little different. Based on first impressions, a novel set in 1930s rural Sussex doesn't seem like it would entertain on your three-hour flight to Faro, but Bethan Roberts' second novel, The Good Plain Cook, will shatter your preconceptions.
Kitty is a quaint and shy nineteen-year-old, desperate to leave home and live independently. In 1936 there was very little choice for an unmarried girl of her age to do just that, so she is forced to respond to an advert in the local newspaper for a 'good plain cook'.
With Kitty's new residence and occupation comes a string of highly entertaining characters that Roberts portrays wonderfully. Mrs Steinberg is the head of the household; a rich bohemian with a penchant for sunbathing naked, who has a curious and oddly-behaved daughter, Geenie, who unhappily spends her days in her mother's shadow. And then there's the men; the flirtacious gardener Arthur, who visits Kitty in the kitchen every morning for a cup of tea and an opportunity to woo her. However, Arthur doesn't have a chance with Kitty whilst Mr. Crane is around – the man of the house and Mrs Steinberg's lover whom Kitty is sensationally drawn to.
The fact that The Good Plain Cook is set in the 1930s makes it all the more scandalous and powerful. Although not obvious whilst reading, by the time you reach the end of the book you discover the whole thing has been about three women trying to find their place in the world and their own sexual identity in a pre-feminism era. Kitty is the naïve and innocent young girl, brought into a wealthy household to bear witness to the fairytale life that Mrs Steinberg is desperate to project on the rest of the world. Geenie is the pre-pubescent woman, full of curiosity about herself, her mother's behaviour and the way she feels about it.
Overall, it's a brilliant book with a wonderful insight into the lives of 1930s women and what goes on behind closed doors, as it were. Bethan Roberts has truly mastered the art of writing in ways that aren't too contemporary for the subject matter as well as producing wonderful characters that are both entertaining and rich in personality.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
For more fiction set in the nineteen thirties, this time with an element of mystery you might like to read our review of An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson.
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