Published: 16 July 2020 (Paperback)
Author: Lara Williams
Published by: Penguin
Length: 272 pages
Reading dates: 4-8 July 2020
Roberta has never felt as though she fits in. She goes to University expecting to find “her people” but finds the people she lives with already seem to have social lives and people they know, and she finds herself on the periphery of what is going on, not really belonging. To help fill her time, she starts to cook, teaching herself spices, textures and flavours.
In her late twenties, she meets Stevie at work, and they become best friends, soon moving in together. Roberta loves cooking for her and together they form the Supper Club, a secret society for hungry women: Women who have had bad experiences with men and sex. Women who are sick of expectations that they should be thinner, smile more and talk less. A place for women to take up space with their bodies. Their gatherings start in a hired restaurant, where the women use discarded food in supermarket bins to create their meals. They offer a vision of debauchery, eating with their hands, mixing up the courses of their meals, drinking and taking drugs, often gorging themselves until they are sick, revelling in the fact there is no judgement.
The thought of a supper club was somehow strange; a formalization of something personal and already weighted. Eating and love had been, throughout my life, irrevocably connected. Fantasies of cooking for a partner. Promises of takeaways ensconced on the couch. My mum fussing in the kitchen while Joan of Arc whined at our feet. Sunday dinner with my aunt. I once heard a big girl in my Philosophy class announce that she was starving. ‘I could eat the world!’ she said, prompting exchanged glances from my peers. But I didn’t think she had a big appetite; I thought she had a big heart.
Told exclusively from Roberta’s point of view in alternating chapters in both the present (when she is friends with Stevie and involved in supper club) and in the past (at University) she is a character you can’t help but feel sorry for. Her father walked out on her and her mum when she was young. While at University she is raped which she keeps secret and then enters into a relationship with an older man, a member of staff at the University, who treats her badly. Roberta seems happy briefly when she meets Stevie and their relationship is almost like a love story.
The descriptions of food are to die for – some of the chapters start with a description of how to make a particular food. They linger over the processes involved and I found these almost sensual and definitely mouth-watering – who’d of thought the art of caramelising onions would be so captivating?
I enjoyed this, but it also made me feel sad. Roberta only seems truly happy for such a short time in the book and I’m not sure I really liked any of the characters that much. With strong feminist themes running through Supper Club, some of the writing and observations are wonderful. Williams is a talented writer and I look forward to what she does next.
Many thanks to Rosie at Penguin for the Netgalley copy and for inviting me on the blog tour. You can check out the other bloggers who are shouting about this book below
About the author
Lara Williams is the author of the short story collection Treats, which was shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize, the Edinburgh First Book Award and the Saboteur Awards and longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. Her debut novel Supper Club has been translated into five languages, won the Guardian ‘Not the Booker’ Prize and was listed as a Book of the Year 2019 by TIME, Vogue and other publications. Lara Williams lives in Manchester and is a contributor to the Guardian, Independent, Times Literary Supplement, Vice, Dazed and others.