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[Mild spoilers] I bought this book having finished The Lager Queen of Minnesota, by the same author, and wanted to love it. Same fun turn of phrase, same random characters dying here and there, same intense interest in a subject (food for this one; beer for the other). But while the other book left me weeping, this one left me cold. The ending felt very unsatisfactory, and I didn't feel the device of each chapter telling the story of Eva worked, because in so many of the cases the links to Eva were so tenuous. And the more we saw Eva evolve, the less believable her journey felt.
I gave his other book 5 stars (which I rarely do). Not so with this one.
I am unsure how to review this book. Each chapter of the book reads like a short story and is told from a different characters point of view so we hear Eva's story through a variety of family, friends and even a boyfriend. The stories in themselves are well written and interesting enough. However Eva is the only character that appears in every story and in some stories she has almost no role at all. This means we struggle to paint a complete picture of her character which makes the blurb of the book quite misleading. Certain characters that appear in the early chapters reappear later on as minor characters which I found confusing because I had forgotten who they were. As few characters appear more than once there is also little character development which was kind of disappointing. I also found the ending of the final story quite a let down as well. There is some good writing here and perhaps if told in a different way may have proved to be a more interesting book.
So this is unlike any other book I have read. It tells the story of Eva Thorvald from her parents meeting through to her adulthood and her becoming a celebrated chef. However, apart from 1 chapter, each chapter tells the story of another character who has some connection to Eva. Whilst this is not an unusual way to tell a story, the difference here was that many of these characters have very loose links to Eva and in some chapters she is hardly mentioned – we may only get a glimpse of what is going on with her in the background to the other characters story.
However, towards the end of the book some of the characters are brought back into the story and I found it quite difficult to remember who they all were and how they were connected to Eva. The ending of the book felt unsatisfactory and without wanting to give away any spoilers I was left wandering if the gathering was a coincidence or whether it had been planned by Eva.
As a character, Eva seemed too perfect. She seemed to glide through life getting what she wanted and the other characters seemed to hold her in some god like reverence. I didn’t particularly find myself caring about her or rooting for her.
Through the book and the different characters stories there were a lot of cliffhangers and these never got resolved. In some cases you could fill in the gaps with your own imagination of what happened but in others I really would have liked to have known what happened to the character.
It was an interesting snippet into multiple lives centred in and around the Minnesota area but unfortunately the snippets were not quite long enough to leave me satisfied at the end of the book.
The writing is good. Phrases are well-turned. And I loved the broken, hurting characters in the first half of the novel. Unfortunately, the main plotline went ridiculously ostentatious and veered out of hand to the point where I didn't like the main character by the end. But in fairness (SPOILER) a main character who plants corn in a field four years before she plans to cook a gourmet meal nearby just so she could have the freshest corn possible is always going to irk me. It is possible I'm simply easy to rile, as I was also put off by the inclusion of recipes,which seemed an unnecessary gimmick. In summary, read this if you are a complete food snob--you'll love it. Otherwise, skip it and join me in hoping that the author devises a less irritating story next time.
3.0 out of 5 starsDisappointed it wasn't more enjoyable
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 22 October 2015
This is not a book I would usually have chosen, but it was recommended so I thought I'd give it a go. I have to be honest I haven't enjoyed reading it as much as I'd hoped.
The blurb is somewhat misleading, as it makes it sound like it's Eva Thorvald's story and that isn't the case. Instead each chapter is like an individual short story, told from the point of view of a different character and involving a different food. The chapter headings - Lutefisk, Chocolate Habanero etc. - let you know the foodie focus of the chapter. The book begins with Eva's birth and each chapter sees her growing up a little more. Though only one chapter is told from her point of view, she has a significant impact on the characters in the other chapters.
I loved how food was integrated into the storyline, both the recipes and the descriptions of food. This was where the book succeeded for me. Unfortunately I found I could put down the book and leave it for days at a time, mainly because I didn't really like any of the characters. I had a kind of mild curiosity about how things would progress but I didn't really mind if I didn't find out.
Initially it's very readable but I think by the fifth chapter I realised you weren't really going to find out about Eva.
Do not buy this if you are expecting a linear story of Eva Thorvald's life. I think the short story format works to a limited extent (for me). It's interesting enough to keep you reading, at least in the beginning. But I think how much you enjoy this will depend on how engaging you find the characters and I personally didn't find them that likeable.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 20 September 2015
This book is more a collection of short stories revolving around the erstwhile heroine Eva Thorvald, rather than a more conventional novel. Some of the stories are resolved, and some are (annoyingly) left hanging. It was -for me- a book that was charming, funny, & acute , but ultimately hollow. It's a bit like an eclair .. one always has great expectations of them, but they are all style, and little substance.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 29 September 2015
I really like books that incorporate a love of food into the story, and this one does that in spades. It is the story of Eva, a girl who inherited her love of culinary delights from her father. After a tragic start in life as far as her parents are concerned, the book follows her exploits in life and food. I found the fact that the story is told from a variety of different viewpoints a bit distracting, but it is quite an enjoyable, if slightly too light a read for my tastes.
This was extremely well written. I can’t stress that enough. It is the story of a woman - a story that starts when she’s a baby and sees her into adulthood. But what is amazing is that as the main character.... she isn’t really. She’s more like the main attraction. Each chapter is from a different person’s (third person) viewpoint and in some way Eva enters their life - sometimes only briefly. But through everyone’s stories, we see Eva grow up. It was a fascinating way to read a story. For personal reasons, I found it depressing. And as a reader, I felt anxious to know what happens to the characters. You get the gist but not the full story for everyone. There’s a lot you have to leave up to your imagination and reflect on. This would be a great book to discuss with others. Again, excellent writing.