Publisher: Influx Press
Publication Date: 10th September 2020
This book is the book I’ve been waiting for for such a long time! I’ve been scouting around for a book involving food and women all with a dark edge and Famished by Anna Vaught is that book! Even more perfect is that this is a short story collection you can graze on like a word buffet or gorge on to your hearts content (there may be more food analogies throughout this review so strap in!).
This collection of 17 toothsome tales is an absolute smorgasbord of feasting fables. Each story has a somewhat dark fairytale-esque quality running through it and with first lines such as ‘Did you ever hear tell of Nanny Lovett and Pop Todd, now deceased, with one pickled and the other soused?’ luring you in, you have no choice but to lean a little closer and open your ears (and mouth) wide to accept the deliciously quirky tales.
There are times when you’ll feel your stomach rumble with the unctuous descriptions of fabulous foods, only to later recoil in revulsion at the next offering…..think ‘tripe in its nasty pool of white sauce, encircled by effulgent lumps of onion’ or ‘pots of umber sludge; pickled eggs like eyeballs, bobbing in heavily sedimented jars’.
Both of the descriptions above come from the probably the most memorable tale (for me at least) A Tale Of Tripe in which Catherine has nightly dreams about her long dead mother and grandmother, the matriarchs of the family, making her eat tripe in the pantry as a punishment. What the punishment was for Catherine can’t tell but she lives with the shadowy grey shapes of her mother and grandmother and their nasty and vicious tongues. That is until Catherine decides to take decisive action and under the tutelage of a omnipresent chef, cooks up a storm and banishes her tripe tormentors.
Shame is another firm favourite of mine, a story that will never leave me. The story of a woman in a toxic relationship in which she’s told she’s a ‘lard arse’ and inferior because of the types of food she enjoys. Nutella from the jar, spooned up by a finger, the stuck on bits of the roast potatoes from the oven dish, ‘the sunset dust in the bottom of the tortilla chip bag’.
‘I sucked a mango stone in bed. Once even brought to bed a cornet of winkles, accompanied by a corn stick with pins, for winkling, on our seaside holiday. I ate a pie in the bath….’
This glorious woman eventually breaks free and revels in her ‘low brow’ tastes. None of which are guilty pleasures to feel ashamed of. She is fabulous!
The story entitled Shadow Babies Supper freaked me out! A chilling little tale to make your skin crawl with unease, in which a woman visits the home of a neighbour who has three dolls sitting on rocking chairs in her front room which she treats as her babies.
‘And do you know, in the lap of each lovely occupant was a delicate biscuit and a shrivelling fruit, shaped by the desiccant air of the cold house…………Did you imagine it, or could you see little bites on the pretty biscuit and the desiccated fruit in each lap? And did you trace a crumb on a dainty lip or hear a mew of mastication at each little person?’
Each story sucks you in, be it a bite sized couple of pages or a more substantial snack. I gorged the whole thing in one sitting without sitting back to belch or dab daintily at my mouth with a napkin. I even cooked my own family’s evening meal whilst holding the book in one hand and continuing to feast on it. It felt very fitting that my proof copy ended up covered in saucy fingerprints and greasy stains.
These are the kinds of stories you feel yourself wanting to go back and sample again. And indeed I did, but I took my time to savour each one the second time around.
Anna Vaught’s richly vivid and descriptive prose will leave you feeling both hungry and slightly nauseated all at once.
You are all aware by now that I keep my most beloved books on my Forever Shelf and Famished will be taking up one of the coveted spots for sure. I am certain that I will return to this gem of a collection again and again. I cannot recommend it enough.
Thank you as always to the lovely Jordan and Influx Press for my review copy (even if it is now a bit battered and bruised….well loved if you will).
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx