Book notes: a debut novel and an artist’s memoirs

Wayne Macauley, The Cook (2011)

Zac is a young offender whose rehabilitation is to be sent to a rural cookery school run by a famous chef.

Here Zac finds his calling when he discovers the world of fine food. While others on the scheme fall by the wayside, Zac diligently pursues his craft, studying classical French cookery books; breeding his own lambs for his dishes. After leaving the school he is given a job as the private chef to a wealthy Melbourne family. Zac sees this as good practice for his dream of opening a high-end restaurant – but not everyone in the household is happy with the ethics of employing him.

The Cook is an interesting examination of class issues – Zac’s job might be seen as archaic servitude (he has to call his employers ‘Mistress’ and ‘Master’) but he thinks he can better himself with it. Wayne Macauley doesn’t give simple answers, but his debut novel is also a brilliant example of voice and viewpoint. You hear Zac’s comma-free gabble in your head and become so absorbed in his perspective that you start to lose sight of what’s happening around him. That is, until the ending, when the full implications of this partial viewpoint are revealed. The Cook has one of the most shocking and surprising endings I have read in quite some time. It puts the cap on a fine novel, and helps mark out Macauley as a writer worth following.

(This review also appears at We Love This Book.)

Antonia Gialerakis (ed.), An Unquiet Spirit (2012)

An Unquiet Spirit collects together the autobiographical writings of Antonia Gialerakis’s mother Hilary, an artist. I hadn’t heard of Hilary Gialerakis before reading this book, but her story as revealed in these memoirs is a compelling one.

Hilary Carter was born in Dorset in 1924; the first part of her writings, headed ‘Memories’, runs from then through to 1959. Hilary’s telling of her life begins in piecemeal fashion, a new event in almost every paragraph. Though the book soon becomes less episodic, we never lose the sense that these are recollections – there are gaps in Hilary’s memory, and there’s a certain impressionistic quality to the way she depicts the world.

As she tells it, Hilary’s life falls into a number of broad patterns: a peripatetic existence, moving between England and Switzerland (in childhood) or South Africa (in adulthood). A series of turbulent relationships with men who tend to remain on the fringes of Hilary’s life. Bouts of illness, periods spent in mental hospitals, visits to doctors and psychiatrists – but no firm diagnosis. Running throughout is a sense of restlessness (mirrored by the tone of the writing), and of art as Hilary’s anchor and refuge.

In the 1950s, Hilary meets Andre Gialerakis, the man with whom she’ll start a family. By 1974 (the time of the second, much shorter, ‘Diary’ part), she has given birth to Antonia, and the family have settled in Durban. In this section, Hilary expresses more concern over the effect of her behaviour and personality on those closest to her, and seems ever more determined to deal with her problems. By the end of her diary, it feels as though she’s taken firm steps towards doing that. It’s an optimistic end to a powerful life story.

2 Comments

  1. I’m about half way through this book. I loved it initially, but now I’m getting tired of the endless meat preparation. It is good to hear there is a surprising ending – I look forward to finding out what happens.

  2. David Hebblethwaite

    11th November 2012 at 4:10 pm

    It does pay off in the end, Jackie – though it’s not a very pleasant ending, to say the least…

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