#BookReview By Lou -The Language of Food By Annabel Abbs @AnnabelAbbs @simonschusterUK #TheLanguageOfFood @BookMinxSJV

The Language of Food
By Annabel Abbs

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Language of Food is fiction based on fact. It takes reader into the life of a little known woman, by many, called Eliza Acton. She changed the course of cookery forever and when today’s cooks come across her, they are inspired by her story and style. Annabel Abbs has now opened her life up so that everyone can know the achievements and hardships and good times of her. Discover more in the blurb and my review. I also thank Simon and Schuster for gifting me a copy of the book.

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Blurb

The Language of Food picEngland 1835. Eliza Acton is a poet who dreams of seeing her words in print. But when she takes her new manuscript to a publisher, she’s told that ‘poetry is not the business of a lady’. Instead, they want her to write a cookery book. That’s what readers really want from women. England is awash with exciting new ingredients, from spices to exotic fruits. But no one knows how to use them

Eliza leaves the offices appalled. But when her father is forced to flee the country for bankruptcy, she has no choice but to consider the proposal. Never having cooked before, she is determined to learn and to discover, if she can, the poetry in recipe writing. To assist her, she hires seventeen-year-old Ann Kirby, the impoverished daughter of a war-crippled father and a mother with dementia. 

Over the course of ten years, Eliza and Ann developed an unusual friendship – one that crossed social classes and divides – and, together, they broke the mould of traditional cookbooks and changed the course of cookery writing forever. 

Eliza Acton, despite having never before boiled an egg, became one of the world’s most successful cookery writers, revolutionizing cooking and cookbooks around the world. Her story is fascinating, uplifting and truly inspiring.

The Language of Food pic

                                              The Language of Food pic

Review

The Language of Food may make you hungry, it may make you feel warm and cosy and it may show you something you perhaps did not know before.

This is a fictional book, but features a real person from history – Eliza Acton. She was a cookery writer who lived between 1799-1859 and got a blue plaque. I love and appreciate food and cookery, but I had never heard of her before, perhaps because, as the book says, so little was known about her, but this book weaves into her life, what was known about her. More well-known cooks of this more modern era, such as Delia Smith and others, have been influenced by her. Eliza’s books were bestsellers, selling vast amounts of copies at the time.

Each chapter is nicely designed in the way they are written and titled – using food related terms or actual food. The book also goes between Ann and Eliza to tell their life stories. It begins with Ann and Mr Whitmarsh, who has given her a present. Immediately, Mr Whitmarsh brings energy that runs through the opening chapter, but also one of intrigue at a certain reaction to the more well-known – Mrs Beaton…

The book then goes to Eliza, on her way to a publisher, hoping to publish some more poetry. The publisher then sees an opportunity for a cookery book. The book shows how things were at a certain time in people’s views and at the same time, therefore also shows how things have moved on as time has passed and views have differed and what is realised about women’s talents, that were overlooked and not taken seriously before, as she argues the point of how poetry was good enough for great male stalwarts of this type of writing, but perhaps not women. There is also a level of perspective within Ann’s world, where she isn’t pleased at this finding, but Mr Whitmarsh soon shows a bit of reality within his cooking world.

The book has a sense of movement in time and is, in some respects, the writing is poetic, something perhaps Eliza Acton may have appreciated…. perhaps… It also shows her determination, ambition and almost fearlessness to do things how she wants to, which then drove a change in the way cookery books were and are written.

It isn’t as simple as that. Eliza has to think about food in a more focussed way to give her publishers a cookery book, but with one tiny problem… she has never even boiled an egg before, which makes you wonder how on earth she can write a cookery book and the sort that her publishers would want to show the world and sell. So, she learns and gets inspired by food and what Jack has told her. Eliza, against the odds, begins to add unexpected ingredients for Britain at that time.

The food and how it was cooked, all blended into the story, unfolds in a way that educates in how food was prepared and also feeds the senses terribly well and absorbs into the mind, wanting to soak up and consume every word. Given that there, as readers are informed at the beginning, that there is little known about Eliza Acton, I can’t help but think that this book is respectfully done. There’s a certain sense, especially as it captures the times and then hones in on the food and brings a believability to it and shows how cuisine was then and how Eliza started to change it, and also learnt from other cooks. The book demonstrates a whole foody web of connections and sparks of inspiration gained from others, even if not always in-person, but in their cookery books.

As well as all the food that leaps from the page, there, intertwined is also other parts of her life, because people have more than one interest and more than one thing going on in their lives. There are the friendships forged, even when some may seem unlikely, but showing that sometimes, they can be great friendships. There are also health challenges and how they were seen at the time.

There is also great insight into the characters lives, and the places featured, lots that are real, including a mental health asylum. Those that feature a lot in the book have a very interesting note at the end of the book, which gives even greater context and interest and attention to detail.

As a book as a whole, it’s a good introduction to Eliza Acton, who will, I am sure be a bit better known than she perhaps used to be, and is interesting as well as being humorous with lots of food within it and snippets of her and Ann’s lives throughout, creating a believable story, that then picques interest to do a small amount of looking around for Eliza Acton, something I often find myself doing after a biopic or a fictional story based on a real person’s life, if it interests me enough.

About the Author

Annabel Abbs is the new rising star of biographical historical novels. She grew up in Bristol, Sussex and Wales before studying English Literature at the University of East Anglia and Marketing at the University of Kingston. Her debut novel The Joyce Girl was a Guardian Reader’s Pick and her second novel Frieda: The Original Lady Chatterley earned critical acclaim including Times 2018 Book of the Year. She regularly appears on national and regional media, with recent appearances on Radio 4 Woman’s Hour and Sky News, and is popular on the literary festival circuit. She was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award, the Caledonia Novel Award and the Waverton GoodRead Award. Annabel lives in London with her husband and four children.

 

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