I love my food and food based books are some of my favourite reads, in fact my book club have been dealing with my book based bakes for some time now. I would either find a recipe in the book and replicate it or, even if all I had was a list of the main ingredients, I would create something very unexpected. That’s how I ended up with my recipe for Honesty Cake, an Alice Hoffman book invention with sour cherry and star anise as the only named ingredients. Here it wasn’t so much the food that would have brought me to the table, but the five characters brought together by a card on the notice board of a local supermarket. Each of these characters has a secret and in a way it’s these secrets that bring them together as much as the food. They need a stranger to hear them, to accept their secret without judgement and give support. It’s Derek who is inspired to start the club after his wife of forty years leaves him suddenly. After constant control and criticism, her absence is almost a relief, buts it’s also a loss and Derek is floundering a little with household tasks like cooking and food shopping. After a lifelong struggle with his weight Derek decides to try some different foods and teach himself how to cook. However, there’s something else Derek has been keeping under wraps and would like to experiment with more, maybe with new friends he can do that?
Alongside Derek are four other people, each carrying their own secret. Grieving widower Eddie, is becoming so focused on what’s missing from his life he’s forgotten to concentrate on what he does have, as his relationship with his young daughter starts to be swallowed up by the black hole inside him. Florence is an octogenarian looking for one last adventure and helped by her carer Jessie. Violet needs somewhere to go that isn’t ruled by her abusive husband, in the hope she can make friends and build her confidence enough to leave one day. Cara is in a very lonely place after ageing out of the care system, so she wants to meet people she can make friends with. A disparate group of people, all longing for the same things, but worried that their secrets might hinder that search for connection.
I fell a little bit in love with Derek, being on the plump side myself I could really identify with how he felt. Having had a partner who would use my weight to knock my confidence, I could feel how confused he was when his wife would cook Friday night ‘feasts’ for them both, then moan about how fat he was getting. She was setting him up to fail and I really couldn’t stand her. I could connect with his sense of food as a celebration so strongly and when he started to plan meals and cook from scratch I felt so proud of him, even though we’d only just met. I could see his life opening up as we followed him joyfully wandering the supermarket and, even though he’s nervous, getting ready to reveal his secret to an old friend.
The point of view changes every few chapters so we are party to the richness of these character’s inner worlds: their dreams and hopes for the future; their fears; then their growing self-love as the group progresses. It’s uplifting to hear and see each one becoming more confident and even moving towards self – acceptance. The issues covered are difficult and as the dinner club becomes a support group we see the character’s facing grief, domestic violence, and loneliness. Yet it never feels too much. It’s moving and poignant, but balanced with the joy and positivity that can only come from living as your authentic self. These people are warm, generous and kind to each other, all wrapped up with some very good food. What more could a reader ask for? This is one that I’ll keep in mind, for the when someone on BookTwitter asks for a fun, uplifting read, because this book is definitely joyous.
The Dinner Club by Helen Aitchison
Release date: 11th March 2022