this is only the third book i have read in which a woman eats her beloved, so i’m no expert or anything, but this one manages to make cannibalism pretty dull – an achievement for sure, but not an achievement you really want to celebrate. i first heard about this book from this article when i was researching marriage thrillers for work, and i got really excited. i’ve read Gone Girl and The Silent Wife and Before We Met and i was hoping for something that took the deadly momentum of these toxic relationships and upped the ante a little in terms of the damage inflicted.
the delicious, delicious damage.
but this does not deliver. the problem here is that in every other marriage thriller, there is a clear-cut villain – a sense of “well, this person was an asshole and caused their lover to behave in this way and they totally deserved it.” but here…the marriage was convenient and dull and far from ideal, but do you really kill and eat a fella over that?? it’s a little extreme.
and at the same time, i don’t think this book addresses the taboo the way it ought. if we consider books like Fifty Shades of Grey or Tampa and other books that take taboo themes and make them uncomfortably commercial, this book also falls short in that respect. there is nothing shocking here. she has made the taboo utterly domestic – a housewife’s cannibalism. she kills her husband on a whim, but ingests him methodically, dispassionately. this has none of the fiery passion of The Taste of a Man – neither the erotic components nor the psychological elements. here, the disposal of the body is treated like housework; a task that needs to be accomplished, just a bit of washing-up.
and it’s not even foodporn like hannibal
she doesn’t celebrate the ritual in any way, she makes utterly pedestrian meals out of him, and it is neither feminist triumph nor dark-humored satire on the state of modern marriage. it’s just, as she says, eat. shit. sleep. which would call to mind the empowering female liberation of Eat, Pray, Love if this book had a more comedic tone, instead of determined plodding.
this is a woman who willingly locked herself away in a safe and dull marriage, and contributed to its dullness. several scenes are recounted in which you can see her husband trying to spice things up romantically, to make things work, to make a better life for them, but she resisted his attempts. her husband is an amateur sculptor who works out of his shed, and here you can see her stifling practicality:
“I just need to go to the shed. I need to do something,” he’d say.
“It’s after dark. It’s dinner time.”
He’d reach for the wine and agree that she had a point.
“I can go after dinner. That’s what I’ll do.”
“Yes, that’s an idea.”
Somehow the two of them were sucking up all the air.
all of these instances where she inhibits her husband, without any psychological justification that might encourage sympathy in the reader, make it hard for her to play the victim card, and hard for the reader to justify or applaud her ultimate decision. but she’s not even malicious enough to be a true villain, she’s just a slow silent smotherer, a deflator of ambition.
the book is peppered with “notes to self” to walk her through the process of consuming the entire corpse of her husband, and even here, her goals are incredibly small and dull:
74. Refrain from eating all day so that you will be hungry. Focus on that hunger in order to let it win out over the feeling of disgust that will come up as you lay the table for another meal.
75. When you get out of here, you will be entirely independent and can choose to live exactly as you please. You might choose never to eat at a table again. You might choose not to use a knife and fork to eat, let alone have such things in your possession.
76. You could simply go to a shop and buy a bag of carrots and eat them outside, standing on the street.
77. Think of that bag of carrots.
78. Think of that street in Scotland. And you standing on it – free – with a bag of carrots.
79. Pour yourself a glass of wine.
ordinarily, the paltriness of those dreams would make my heart ache with human-feelings, like that similar scene in
The Devil All the Time did, but my heart cannot get it up for this character. i don’t feel any sympathy for her. i don’t feel that her decision was justified so i don’t give a shit about her and her carrots. during The Taste of a Man, i thought, “yeah. i understand why this character felt she had to kill and eat her man. i understand what this author is saying here with this.”
but this book is neither the passion of The Taste of a Man nor the revenge fantasies of The Silent Wife nor the taboo of Tampa. it’s just a book in which a frumpy lady has a “to-do” list, and on that list is “eat husband.”
it gets three stars because i didn’t hate it, i just don’t think it was very successful in invoking sympathy in the reader, or bringing anything new to the table of cannibal lit.