Tale worth devouring
NATALIE Young’s second novel features what at first seems to be an ordinary, unassuming protagonist: Lizzie Prain is a 53-year-old housewife who lives with her husband of 30 years, Jacob, out in the sticks in Surrey, England. She likes cooking and has a small home business making cakes.
The first hint of something strange comes in how Lizzie avoids her neighbours, leading a reclusive life even though she longs for company. You see, underneath her quiet demeanour, Lizzie silently rages at Jacob. And the way she deals with that rage is to hit the Jacob in the back of his head with a spade while he is obliviously tending the garden one fine day.
Young does not make it clear why Lizzie is angry with Jacob. Could it be his affair and his drug use with Joanne in London? Or his habit of going to a gentlemen’s club to have sleazy fun with young girls? Perhaps his blatant use of money on cheap sexual thrills when they are facing financial constraints? Lizzie herself does not know, and Young does not explain. Like messy real life, Lizzie’s anger is a combination of things that leads to one act of violence resulting in Jacob’s demise in the book’s very first chapter.
From then on, the novel becomes a mix of poignancy, hopefulness, and the macabre, with a couple of recipes thrown in for good measure. Why recipes? Well, with Jacob’s corpse lying in the garden and Lizzie’s determination not to go to prison for her deed, she decides to ... eat her husband, as the book’s title intimates. And Young does not squirm away from describing how Lizzie dismembers Jacob’s body and stores the parts (in labelled garbage bags) in the deep freezer.
Though not entirely graphic, Young’s descriptions have Lizzie treating Jacob’s body parts as though they are everyday ingredients used in cooking: “The heart was larger than she’d expected, slightly bigger than her fist. It was like holding a root ball. She removed the tendons, tubes and tougher flaps of skin around the edge. These she would give to the dog.” Ordinary, to the point of being mundane, this is just Lizzie preparing a meal.
Not that Young doesn’t know how to make her audience squirm, effectively wielding moments of warped gothic humour. For instance, when the time comes for Lizzie to devour Jacob’s arms, Young has her clean Jacob’s nails first, then shave the hair off before marinating them and popping them into the microwave....
Those with strong stomachs may find some poignancy in Lizzie’s act of eating her husband. This could be her way of remaining close to Jacob before nature calls and parts of Jacob gets flushed away, wiped from Lizzie’s memory and from existence.
While the bulk of the novel is narrated in the third person, the story also delves into Lizzie’s head, with her thoughts given as a list of things she must do in order to live her life free from the burdens of her husband, the judgement of society and the punishment of the law.
There is also a third voice in the novel: Tom, a 20something neighbour who Lizzie had babysat when he and his siblings were younger. Through Tom, an element of hope is introduced, with the younger man longing to be with a woman in her 50s. It is also through Tom that readers get to see Lizzie toying with the idea of being with someone who may actually love her, as opposed to Jacob, who did not show much affection.
This relationship – be it romantic on Tom’s part, lustful/lonely on her part, or just platonic on both their parts – has Lizzie behaving in an uncertain and slightly imbalanced manner. In fact, Tom’s narration paints Lizzie as someone who can be downright rash. Yet, Lizzie’s list illustrates a strong woman determined to follow through on her actions (eating her husband). And then there is Young’s third person narrative that shows a woman at odds with herself, and with her surroundings.
So which Lizzie is the “real” one? I feel that the inconsistencies is Young’s way of presenting Lizzie as being unsure of herself and what she actually wants.
Flawed, emotionally unattractive and obviously psychologically unsound, Lizzie Prain is a not very likeable person, and readers would be hard pressed to feel sorry for her. By keeping her flawed, Young has created a more humane – and arguably more realistic – character in Lizzie. Her backstory with Jacob also paints him as an unlikable character, which made it extremely hard for this reviewer to feel bad for what happens to him.
The flaw in this novel, I feel, is the interaction between Lizzie and Tom: it is not made clear why Tom develops feelings for Lizzie. Though, to be fair, Lizzie is awkward in all communications with other people, including Joanna, the third person in her marriage.
I could see shades of Roald Dahl’s macabre short story for adults, Lamb To The Slaughter (1953), in Young’s novel, but overall, Season To Taste is a tale on its own, with its own take on the aftermath of the end of a marriage, and a wife’s last rites to show her husband her love and devotion by cooking and eating him.
That said, this may not be the novel for everyone – particularly those who are faint of heart and have squeamish stomachs.
Season To Taste has been touted as The Book of 2014 by various publishing industry sources. Though books that are hyped before release usually do not meet expectations, Season To Taste has delivered what is expected of it: a tale worth devouring.