The Hunger and the Howling of Killian Lone by Will Storr
|The Hunger and the Howling of Killian Lone by Will Storr|
|Genre: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: An unusual Faustian-ish tale incorporating the cruel world of the 1980s super chef, nouvelle cuisine, a man with ambition and a dark family secret. It's Roald Dahl for grown-ups and as good as it is quirky, i.e. excellent.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 302||Date: March 2013|
|Publisher: Short Books Ltd|
|External links: Author's website|
Killian Lone grows up in a home lacking in love and security. For these he relies on his elderly aunt Dorothy, an accomplished cook. Indeed his visits to Dorothy revolve around food as he absorbs all she can teach him, slowly inheriting her passion and skill along with her knowledge. This attachment to food then becomes his career choice, leading to the unfortunate discovery of a family secret that has remained hidden for a very long time. Why 'unfortunate'? There's a reason for its concealment… a very, very good reason. Be careful for what you wish, Killian Lone.
As journalist Will Storr is someone who has made radio documentaries for the BBC and written features for some of the best newspapers world-wide, we'd expect a well-researched novel. This expectation hasn't been disappointed: he spent double shifts interviewing the restaurant staff of Michel Roux Jnr and Guillaume Brahimi (with the great chefs' permission of course) along with the study of Rudolph Cheminksi's book on the pressure behind acquiring Michelin stars. The result is a wonderful, dark story weaving fictionalised grotesque with true kitchen horror stories in such a way that it's hard to see the join.
Killian narrates it himself from beyond the grave; a clever device making it rather more-ish from the beginning, and that's not the only clever touch. The family secret comes complete with a 17th century back-story adding depth and twists as Lone moves towards the destiny of which he hints. He starts at the beginning with his parents: more Hogarth etching than Mary Poppins. His mother is particularly cringe-worthy (in character, not writing), her profession being particularly ironic adding the feeling of intended cruelty from one who should know better. Indeed, if Roald Dahl was still writing, he'd wished he'd thought of her first.
The other villain of the piece is Max Mann, celebrity chef and kitchen despot. He lives for the love of perfect work, a love ignoring and eradicating anything impeding perfection… decency… kindness… anything at all. Max demonstrates that the more external perfection is sought, the less internal perfection remains and the scariest bit is that some of the episodes in his kitchens are based on truth. I don't want to ruin the impact by giving anything away, but when you consider that bodily fluids are involved (and the swearing you would imagine) you'll see this is perhaps not a book to lend to confident-reading children. (For further clarification, the author is swift to point out that the kitchens of Roux and Brahimi are not in any way implicated in any of the episodes.) It's not all darkness though; the lovely Kathryn brings a lot of light into Killian's world but I shall leave that there as I may have said too much already.
If you're a surface reader rather than delver, this story has plenty for you. However if you fancy a delve, there's allegory as Will Storr creates a fable about ambition and foibles seasoned with page turning compulsion rather than off-putting moralising. The fact that the family secret comes equipped with a 17th century back-story cunningly adds depth and twists while we witness Lone moving towards the destiny of which he hints from the beginning.
This isn't a book that the squeamish should avoid as it won't bring you nightmares or lunch-revisiting moments. However, once finished, episodes waft into our memories as this isn't the sort of story you forget in a hurry and, if you visited Michelin star restaurants 30 years ago, the things overheard through the kitchen door may suddenly make sense.
If you've enjoyed this and you'd like more fiction based around the high-flying world of the chef, we suggest The Cook by Wayne Macauley.
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