Season To Taste: Or How To Eat Your Husband (16 January 2014) by Natalie Young
Lizzie Prain is a fiftysomething woman who spontaneously murders her husband. And then eats him. That's about it for the premise of this dark and often stomach-turning novel. That in itself is not a criticism: this simple setup is all Season To Taste really needs to make it intriguing. Team that with an increasing amount of hype and discussion of the novel in the press and on blogs and, as a feminist twist on a controversial taboo subject, it looks set to be the murder-and-cannibalism equivalent of Tampa. The twisted subject matter sounded right up my street, and after receiving a review copy from the publisher (complete with wooden spoon) I couldn’t wait to get stuck in (pun intended). But unfortunately, the execution (...no, not that execution) left me cold.
I was hoping for a combination of black comedy and character study, like Jenn Ashworth's A Kind of Intimacy, with an even more macabre twist and, hopefully, a deliciously unreliable narrator. However, Lizzie is a dull and unsympathetic character. She is is practical rather than conniving, and this is reflected in the workmanlike, emotionless prose. Her husband, Jacob, doesn't exactly sound delightful, but nor is he horrendous enough that any pleasure can be taken from his gruesome demise. Most of the story is told in third person and, although we do hear from Lizzie - throughout the book she is writing a series of instructions to herself - her voice isn’t given enough rein to establish the character in a more interesting way.
Then there’s the character of Tom, a young man who works at the garden centre, towards whom Lizzie seems to feel both motherly and predatory. I didn't understand Tom at all - in the main narrative he seems so unstable and his behaviour so abnormal that I actually wondered if he was supposed to be mentally disabled in some way, but in his own narrative (the book has a few chapters written from his point of view) he sounds totally coherent. At first, I wanted to know what Lizzie’s fate would be, and this was what kept me going throughout a lot of boring scenes of her standing around the house and cooking bits of Jacob’s body, but by the end I wasn’t bothered either way. Lizzie was just too uninteresting for me to even care whether she got away with it.
I think perhaps this is another book - like all those psychological thrillers of late - that suffers because I’ve read too many similar things. Not that there are lots of books around about women eating their husbands, but I’ve read plenty of variations on ‘seemingly ordinary person does something unimaginably terrible’ and ‘lonely, slightly odd character forms unlikely bond with naive person who is a lot younger or older than them’. eg, to various degrees: the aforementioned A Kind of Intimacy and Tampa, Lamb, God’s Own Country, The Detour, All the Birds, Singing, Lolito, among others. All, to my mind, more successful takes on the ideas that inform the plot.
I recently saw one mention of the book (admittedly probably written by someone who hadn’t read it) that called it ‘the female American Psycho’, and it’s really about as far away from being that as a story about murder and cannibalism can possibly get. I bloody wish it had been the female American Psycho.
Honestly, I hope other readers find that this book lives up to the hype, and enjoy it the way I hoped I would. It just wasn't the sort of thing I like to read, and I felt the author could have done something much more interesting with the idea had she explored Lizzie’s psyche in more depth, or made her either a victim you can sympathise with, or the type of awful person you love to hate, or that magical combination of both. I get that the entire point is that she isn’t any of these things - she’s just a plain, ordinary woman whose life has been a series of quiet failures - but, in this case, I’m afraid that doesn’t make for a very interesting story. And for all that the book’s been promoted as darkly comic and satirical, I didn’t find much of either element in the narrative, and felt both could have been exploited further to make it a more enjoyable read. That’s just my opinion, though, and it already seems that a lot of readers would disagree. It’s such a unique premise that it’s worth giving it a try and deciding for yourself.
I received an advance review copy of Season To Taste from the publisher.
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