Lizzie Prain is a fifty-something housewife in rural Surrey. She has been married to her dull husband Jacob for thirty years, and enjoys cooking, gardening and walking their dog Rita in the local woods. When the neighbours at the farm up the road mention they haven’t seen Jacob for a while, Lizzie tells them that he has left her for another woman and won’t be coming back. In fact, last Monday morning she spontaneously caved Jacob’s head in with a spade as he was planting a tree in their garden. Ever the practical sort, Lizzie’s thoughts turned immediately to how she will dispose of the body. Worried that burying Jacob in the woods will lead to his discovery – and be unpleasant for whoever did the finding – and burying him at the house would prevent her from ever moving away, she comes to a firm decision. The only way to dispose of Jacob is to eat him. After all, it would be morally wrong to waste all that meat.
Fetching an axe and a pair of rubber gloves, Lizzie spent the rest of Monday chopping Jacob into sixteen pieces, each one individually bagged and labelled, and placed into the large chest freezer in the garage. She plans a new life in Scotland, away from the damp little cottage and its miserable memories, and resolves to leave just as soon as Jacob’s body is safely consumed. It shouldn’t take her more than a couple of weeks. A month at most. Lizzie resolves to start with his right hand, methodically removing it from the freezer, scrubbing and defrosting it, before roasting it in olive oil and using the leftover bits and bones to start off a stock pot. It wasn’t easy, but a nice glass of white wine helped with the meal, and the smell of the stock was successfully countered with saucers of vinegar placed strategically around the kitchen. One down, fifteen to go.
Tales of people murdering their spouses are not uncommon. Usually, it is the husband murdering the wife; when fictional wives turn on their husbands it is usually with great motivation, such as an abusive relationship or devastating affair. In Lizzie’s case, Jacob seems to have been nothing worse than boring and a bit argumentative, and the murder, like the relationship, lacks any great passion or feeling. Lizzie is calm and practical throughout, and the third person narrative is interspersed with Lizzie’s own notes on the whole process, which read like something between a self-help guide for others in her situation and a cook book. The detached, emotionless language and pared-down style of writing makes for this story being alternatively chilling and blackly comic. The only time we see Lizzie show any real emotion is when it looks like she may be found out, but the rest of the time she concerns herself mostly with dealing with the realities of cannibalism; how best to cook certain parts, and the effect that such a protein rich diet has on the constitution.
As much as I enjoyed reading of Lizzie’s dark exploits, the introduction of Tom, a young man who works at the local garden centre, did confuse things for me a bit. Lizzie’s feelings towards him are unclear – a mixture of motherly concern and something that may or may not be physical attraction – and in her narrative he seems somewhat unstable, but is the small number of chapters that he narrates he comes across more as slow witted but coherent. I didn’t understand him or his place in the story at all as it seemed to add nothing and draw attention away from the main thrust of the plot. I ended up skipping those sections and enjoying the rest of the book.
Publishers Tinder Press have tipped this novel, Natalie Young’s first, to be one of the most talked about books of 2014. Given how subversive, unexpected and controversial the subject matter is, I would be very surprised if it wasn’t talked about. I have also picked up some useful practical tips about what to do if I ever end up murdering my husband…although I think I will need a bigger freezer.
Season to Taste or How to Eat Your Husband by Natalie Young
Published by Tinder Press, January 2014
With thanks to the publishers for sending me this review copy (and the Season To Taste branded wooden spoon!)
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