Sen­su­ous take on meat, fruit and veg

Lauren Wil­son

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

IN the tra­di­tion of Euro­pean folk­tales, Caro­line Hamil­ton’s de­but novel, Con­sumed , will have you read­ing into the witch­ing hour as the Melbourne- based nov­el­ist serves up a story of food, fam­ily, ob­ses­sion and twice- cooked re­venge.

Amelia, a lonely young wo­man who dreams of be­com­ing the world’s great­est cook, trawls the mar­kets of Melbourne for culi­nary del­i­ca­cies. When she dis­cov­ers a sweet, pep­pery brand of sauer­kraut from a Pol­ish deli, she em­barks on a re­lent­less hunt for the recipe. Her quest leads her to Kata­rina, a mys­te­ri­ous east­ern Euro­pean wo­man who lives in an old but­ter fac­tory on the city’s out­skirts. From the first bite of Kata­rina’s choco­late truf­fles laced with hints of vanilla, apri­cot, rum, ginger and hot chilli, Amelia is en­am­oured.

In Kata­rina she finds a tu­tor and the mother she never had. The enig­matic old wo­man be­gins to in­struct her in the art of cook­ing, pass­ing on age- old recipes that have the power to hyp­no­tise, se­duce or even kill.

When Kata­rina dies sud­denly, Amelia is be­queathed ev­ery­thing the wo­man owned: her house, cats, veg­etable gar­den and an an­cient, leather­bound recipe book. But the more Amelia dis­cov­ers about her teacher posthu­mously, the more she learns about her own fated place in a lin­eage of dis­tin­guished cooks that stretches back to the dawn of time.

Hamil­ton’s first of­fer­ing is a sen­sual in­dul­gence for lovers of adult fairy­tales and the macabre. The novel in­vites com­par­isons with An­gela Carter’s an­thol­ogy The Bloody Cham­ber and Other Sto­ries , a cel­e­brated col­lec­tion of fem­i­nist short sto­ries that plays with the scripts of tra­di­tional folk­tales by turn­ing their la­tent masochism on its head.

Hamil­ton’s novel toys with the ideal of the do­mes­tic god­dess, for in this book women and food ex­ist in a realm men can­not pen­e­trate, and those who mis­tak­enly at­tempt to do so pay a high price.

Con­sumed is not a story that will suit ev­ery lit­er­ary palate. It caters to those with a taste for vis­ceral im­agery, who do not mind a gen­er­ous dol­lop of per­ver­sity.

At times it is an as­sault on the senses. The lan­guage is gluti­nous, rich, heady but oc­ca­sion­ally re­pul­sive. The de­scrip­tions of slaugh­tered swine could turn even the most vo­ra­cious car­ni­vore into a veg­e­tar­ian. And for the reader with a sen­si­tive con­sti­tu­tion, Amelia’s fi­nal dish could be too much to swal­low.

But Hamil­ton’s evoca­tive de­scrip­tions of lav­ish, 12- course feasts will likely in­spire read­ers to head to the kitchen be­tween chap­ters. The recipes that are scat­tered through­out the book will also stir the reader’s gas­tro­nomic imag­i­na­tion, as well as of­fer a few prac­ti­cal tips to the culi­nary chal­lenged.

Con­sumed is am­bi­tious in its ap­pro­pri­a­tion of mythol­ogy. The nar­row, sen­sual world of Kata­rina’s veg­etable gar­den is an en­chanted, al­beit sin­is­ter place to be drawn into. While you never get a sense of Hamil­ton’s pro­tag­o­nist as a finely drawn char­ac­ter with an au­then­tic emo­tional life, she is, af­ter all, the hero­ine of a con­tem­po­rary fairy­tale.

Af­ter clos­ing this book it will be dif­fi­cult to look at canned toma­toes, poached pears or cured meats in the same way again.

Hot choco­late: Tempted by truf­fles

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