Reading this book reminded me of when I first saw The Young Poisoner’s Handbook on TV when I was a teenager and thought it was absolutely fucking brilliant. It is a black comedy film from 1995 based on the true story of Graham Young – who got sent to Broadmoor at 14 years old for poisoning his family, friends and family. I loved it.
In book form, I’ve loved (and may never shut up about) Bunny with its funny, dark magical realism, and last year I also fell for the twisted mind of Ottessa Moshfegh and her bitter twisted outsiders (of her novels I’ve read Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation, I have Lapvona in my TBR but I’m bracing myself for that one!). I also read a few years back My Sister, the Serial Killer and loved that one too (highly recommended!). At university I loved reading Angela Carter, and I’d put Money and Other People by Martin Amis in this category too. I was also remembering reading The Wasp Factory by Ian Banks the other day and trying to describe what it was about to my partner! Good God, that book (if you know, you know).
Disturbing, fucked up worlds and selfish amoral characters hold a sick fascination for me.1
So when A Certain Hunger crossed my path (and by my path I mean, Amazon Kindle deals!) I snapped it right up! I was a little trepidatious because I’d been sorely burned by How To Kill Your Family last year which I found to be an overhyped waste of time (a DNF at 15%!).2 But I had no need to fear – A Certain Hunger is what How To Kill Your Family didn’t have the imagination to be!
I adored Dorothy as a character, although she is definitely not someone I’d ever want to know! A mid-fifties, successful food critic and now convicted murderer; she is a proud, ruthless psychopath who has always known what she wanted and how to get it. She loves gourmet food and adventurous sex with many men, and somewhere along the way, she developed a taste for the flesh of her lovers.
Dorothy is an unreliable narrator, we only have her word for any of this, including her superiority which she really wants the reader to understand (she is also one of those people who spent a year abroad in Italy, learned Italian and then won’t ever shut up about it). I appreciated that she was not really as smart as she thinks she is, she makes many mistakes in her murders and especially the one she was caught for. The chapter where she kills the guy on a boat really had me laughing!
The meat was quite tasty, chewier than beef, certainly, but with an earthy thrum, a kind of truffled bass note, and the piquancy that comes only from the deepest flavor of nostalgia.Did this make anyone else hungry?
The story is told in Dorothy’s words, ostensibly as her prison memoir, and what words they are! Dorothy’s prose are stuffed with the extravagant, visceral – dare I say pompous – words of a sexually charged professional food critic. It made me want to use the word “fecund” more in my everyday life. I have read some reviews that appear to have taken the writing style seriously, but to me, this is clearly a part of the satire. I can’t picture Chelsea G. Summer writing a passage like the one below and not cackling wildly to herself.
A miasma of beef tallow, dirty corn oil, and unwashed man surrounded us. To this day, I can’t look at a Burger King cheeseburger wrapper without feeling my clit twitch. Such is the power of that particular madeleine. I wish I knew that guy’s name. I’d like to look him up.
This must have been such a fun book to write!
But I can’t give it 5 Stars!
As much as this tickled me I can’t give A Certain Hunger a five-star rating. I found it a lot of fun, but it was a surface-level experience. I would put it more in a “beach read” category, it is not Literature it is just entertainment. There is nothing wrong with that, just don’t go into this expecting anything profound (unless it awakens your own inner desire to eat human flesh). It doesn’t stand up against the books I mentioned in my introduction, but sometimes it’s nice to read some “lighter” fucked up shit that won’t give me nightmares when I read it before bed.
Ultimately though, I wished there was a bit more meat to it. I either needed more depth to Dorothy’s motivations (why exactly did she pick her victims, and why murder and eat them in the way she did?) or I needed a cool twist. As it is, the plot is rather predictable and there is very little tension.
Really this might be more of a 3-star read but it gets the extra star because I’m a sicko who just loves this type of book!
I am keen to see what Chelsea G. Summers writes next!
Have you read this? Any recommendations for similar?
- This is my reminder that I have to go back and re-read some of these books, especially Angela Carter. I have two collections of short stories of hers I never read! I have tried over the years but they can be so disturbing I need to be in the exact right mood! ↩︎
- It read like it was written by a teenager who hadn’t learned what makes a character yet. This experience taught me I have to read the samples before I buy an ebook! ↩︎