Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Nourishment by Gerard Woodward

While busily catching up on the writings of twentieth century authors I have been neglecting new books popping up at the library.  When this quirky tale appeared on the list of new books in the catalogue I was intrigued.  Set during the Blitz it began ticking boxes but then things got weird.  Challenging myself to get out of my comfort zone of feminine middlebrow novels I plowed ahead.

Tory Pace has sent her three children to the Cotswolds to escape the bombs and lives with her mother, Emily Head, at 17 Peter Street in London.  While Tory works at a gelatine factory, Mrs Head gets on with keeping the house and cooking the meals.

The first part of the book is darkly humorous.  Dandos, the butcher shop, is bombed and in fabulous detail the author paints a picture of rashers of bacon strewn everywhere.  Mrs Head spies a joint of meat in the rubble and slips it into her mesh bag to roast for the evening meal.  The trouble is, nobody has found the body of the butcher!  Eating dinner could prove to be an act of cannibalism and I was riveted by each poke of the knife.

Tory's husband, Donald, has been captured by the Nazis and is now a POW.  He is allowed to write heavily-censored letters home and has the oddest request...he asks Tory to write erotic letters, the racier the better.  Quite beside herself with repugnance and embarrassment she skirts the issue by writing back using gardening as a metaphor for sex.

'Darling, imagine me as a sagging crimson rose that wants watering.  Imagine yourself as the gardener, walking up the path to my dry rose bed, with a watering-can, full to the lip with water...'

Donald is not impressed and responds...'I did not ask you for an essay on the art of managing my allotment.'

George Farraway owns the gelatine factory and takes an interest in Tory and an affair is soon in full bloom.  Finding herself pregnant she decides to pass the baby off as one she discovered in the dusty rubble of a bombed home in Leicester.  It's one thing to convince the neighbours but quite another when Donald is liberated and the children are brought home from the Cotswolds.  And what's more they have come home with West Country accents.  They have some pretty tough questions and her son, Tom, even goes so far as to suggest his mother has been kidnapped and replaced by an impostor!

Up until this point the book is witty, hilarious, entertaining, whimsical and darkly comedic...I loved it.  Unfortunately, after that it lost its spark for me.  Donald is understandably changed but nasty beyond caring about and a tragedy brought my mood down even further. 

The title suggests the different types of nourishment people need in order to thrive and the result when it is absent.  Woodward had an entertaining story going but he lost me along the way.  And just in case you're wondering, there really isn't anything too suggestive in the book so don't let that put you off.


  1. I'm never sure about modern books that attempt to rewrite war experiences.There are so many fantastic contemporary novels that have a rawness and immediacy to them because of their proximity to the war, and new books that try and re-present those experiences and jazz them up to make them more palatable and sexy just strike me as being rather pointless. I'd love to be able to point people who love these sorts of books towards novels like To Bed with Grand Music, or One Fine Day!

    Look at me, being a grumpy book snob!

  2. bookssnob, Absolutely, the poor fellow doesn't stand a chance against the likes of sublime authors such as Laski and Panter-Downes. To be fair, he was writing a totally different book and someone looking for quirky will be over the moon with it. I was enjoying it for what it was up to a point.

    You go right ahead and be what you are! Since discovering Persephone and Virago I've discovered the difference and am quickly becoming a snob too!

  3. Although I love Viragos and Persephones, I sort of like the sound of the quirkiness of this. I'd not come across it before, but I might have to see if my library is going to get it, too.