How are we all? Hanging on in there? I do hope so. We are rapidly approaching Christmas and for teachers everywhere, who are still in schools across the country, it means we get a break at long last. I genuinely can’t wait to just stop and recover. I’ve never experienced a term like it. I think I’ve only survived because I’ve had plenty of hot chocolates and delicious food which brings me perfectly to the book I want to share with you today. I read Grace Dent’s Hungry in a day because I just couldn’t put it down. I genuinely adore Grace Dent. She’s an excellent writer: witty and engaging. She also has one of the best jobs in the world (in my opinion) as she is a food critic, writing for the Guardian currently and judging on Masterchef. This book was every foodies delight!
What’s it all about?
This novel is a journey through Dent’s life via the foods that were central at that specific time. We see a love of ‘Sketty’, Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut, butterscotch Angel Delight, just to name a few. Like every story, it begins at the beginning, in the north of the country in Carlisle. Dent’s relationship with her father is moving, emotional and poignant. We get a snapshot of her father in 2017, obviously unwell. In the space of one page we are cast back to younger years, 1980, we see a young girl making dinner with her father. Dent’s mother focuses on home improvements as well as working. We see a very normal domestic setting which is humble and true to itself.
“You’re as thick as bloody thieves, you two.”
Like many little girls, Dent is a Brownie. However, it is obvious that she feels like she isn’t good enough, or others are favourites in comparison to her. We see a charming anecdote about a matchbox competition where the winner of the most items inside a matchbox wins a box of Terry’s Harlequin. Dent and her father work together and manage to get twenty eight items inside. However, ‘Darlene’s’ box seems to be longer and with more items inside. Dent, like the rest of us, learns that life just sometimes is not fair.
“Somehow I manage not to say some of the best swearwords in my nine-year-old cursing artillery. I do not say ‘piss’ or ‘arse’ or the bizarrely effective showstopper ‘twat’.”
1988 brings the start of the shopping revolution: big shops! Big Asda arrives locally. What this brings is opportunities, not just for a range of food but for literally everything from clothing, toys, key cutting and prescriptions. For anyone who experienced this first hand, I imagine the description runs true. It’s something, foolishly, I’d not considered. I’m just so used to having that level of convenience around. Evidently, this was a complete game changer for everyone at the time. We had access to most things, things we didn’t even realised that we needed.
“This meant something remarkable – that every day could feel like your birthday at ASDA if you loitered by the Thomas the Tank Engine celebration cakes at closing time, waiting for the appearance of one of Cumbria’s most influential figures: the woman in charge of the reduced sticker gun.”
As Dent grows up, she knows for sure she wants to write and she makes the most out of every opportunity she gets. She dabbles with bits, submitting them along the way to the likes of Cosmopolitan and Chat. She has a difficult decision to make (one that I absolutely can relate to), leave the North for London where there is more of a chance to be successful or stay with her family. She makes the decision to move and lands her first writing job. From here, everything changed. In 1996, at the age of twenty six, we see Dent flying first class to Austria for a freebie trip. It literally changes her life and who can blame her? Who wouldn’t want to have opportunities like these?
“So now here I was, one year into officially being Editorial Assistant, checking in at the exceedingly grand Hotel Imperial, Vienna, being escorted by the manager to one of their largest suits for a two-night stay. He turned the key in the lock and I squeaked with joy.”
One foodie experience I think many of us can relate to in the book is the Toby Carvery. There will be a Toby Carvery near you, wherever you are in the UK. It’s known for the four choices of meat, limited vegetables and gravy. Despite Dent’s palate developing, expanding and becoming more refined, her parents are the same as ever. A Toby Carvery costs a grand total of £4 each. This is a night out for the family, somewhere he father now only feels comfortable. Despite this being a whole other world to Dent, the family moments are so important to her but it does highlight the different between London and the rest of the country.
“George, look at her face, look at it! It’s four quid for the carvery! Four! You can’t turn your nose up at that price. Oh, she’s too posh for this now! Too posh!”
The ending of the novel is arguably the most devastatingly beautiful. It is here we see the long time coming diagnoses of dementia for her father and the impact this has on them all. We have hints throughout the book about him forgetting a few things periodically, but it turns into a much bigger issue. There are moments of complete clarity and it is like her father is really back with them. Sometimes there are moments when he has completely gone to somewhere no one can reach him. It is also the part where we learn that Dent’s mother has cancer. Two blows in quick succession means the impact on Dent personally is astronomical.
“Dementia is really awkward. Not just painful and frightening. Embarrassing. I don’t like to be left alone with Dad… sometimes I can see the terror in his eyes…”
What is clear though, Dent and her father will always have Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut to bring them back to the moment, back to their sense of reality. The ending of this novel is one of hope, despite all the adversity. Hope for the future, hope for food to continue shaping our lives and providing us with new experiences and ultimately bringing us all together again.
“Sometimes I feel like – am – I am – ppphhh.”
“Shall we have a bit of chocolate?”
‘I take the bar of Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut we got him for Christmas. His eyes light up.’
There’s so much about this book I genuinely love. If like me, you wanted to push yourself to read more non-fiction, then absolutely start here. If you love food, then this is definitely for you too! There are plenty of other anecdotes that we can all relate to in here. I hope this gives you just enough to get your taste buds going! Recently, I also attended a Zoom event where Grace discussed her book and left that feeling moved and inspired. This book is such an unsung hero. It’s painfully real. I feel so lucky to have a signed copy too! (See above!)
Continue to stay safe and well all.
Big love all xxx