|SEASON TO TASTE or HOW TO EAT YOUR HUSBAND
Tinder Press (www.tinderpress.co.uk)
She cleaned the nails with a nailbrush, rinsing in the sink; and then she brushed the skin with an oil brush to give it a good crisp. She rubbed all over the hand with olive oil and salt and then twisted the pepper grinder; and she laid his hand on a non-stick roasting tray, carefully straightening the fingers out.
And so we are introduced to the remarkable central character of this beautifully-written but often hard-to-stomach novel: murderess; cannibal; role model. After thirty years living with her husband, Lizzie Prain has had enough and so, one Monday morning when he is out in the garden, she quickly dresses, goes outside and staves his head in with a shovel. Determined that one type of incarceration will not be replaced with another, Lizzie – always practical – comes up with the perfect means of disposing of Jacob’s body: she will eat it, and then she will head to Scotland to start her life anew.
When we are introduced to Lizzie, she has already killed and dismembered her husband, and stored him, in sixteen individually wrapped and labelled packages, in the freezer in the garage. Now, free for the first time in over thirty years, we watch as this fifty-something woman adapts to life outside the shadow of her overbearing and often outright abusive husband. Stolid and practical, she has set herself an almost impossible task, and the reader is carried along as she sets about accomplishing it.
As the story progresses, and Lizzie slowly makes her way through the gruesome packages in the freezer, we learn in flashback what kind of life she has lived, how she met her husband and it becomes clear that the marriage has never been a happy one. Jacob’s overbearing personality, combined with constant jibes about Lizzie’s looks and manner, mean that this is by no means an equal partnership. And yet, on the occasions where Lizzie has walked out, she has never made it very far before returning home to the small cottage on the bend that has been their home since they met. There are moments – few and far between – of true tenderness between them, but they are constantly overshadowed by the darker times (like the time Lizzie watches, emotionless, from the kitchen window as Jacob attempts to hang himself from the tree at the end of the garden) and by the sheer mundanity of everyday life.
‘I’ll put the kettle on,’ he’d say.
‘Fuck’s sake, tea?’
‘You having tea?’
The story is driven by three distinct narratives. The first, and most prevalent, focuses on Lizzie herself and, while it isn’t told in her voice, it does give us some insight into the workings of this remarkable woman’s mind. It is in this narrative that we see the flashbacks and also Lizzie’s thoughts as she first prepares, then cooks, then eats the various pieces of her late husband. Interspersed with this are a handful of trips inside the head of Tom, the young man who lives on the farm at the end of the lane, and who works at the local garden centre. A friendship – a strange and fraught relationship – blossoms between these two central characters, interfering with Lizzie’s careful plans, and planting a seed in the mind of the reader that Jacob may not be Lizzie’s final victim. Alongside these, there are a set of notes, a numbered list of instructions and thoughts, written by Lizzie, presumably for Lizzie; there is something about them, though, that reads like a How To manual, which is presumably where the novel’s alternative title came from.
And so to the novel’s core, and the simple fact of cannibalism that drives it. Natalie Young has attempted to encapsulate the absurd premise of Season to Taste in a story that is grounded in reality and which, once you start, is almost impossible to put down. There is something surreal about the world in which we find ourselves as Young injects the unthinkable into the everyday. Like Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, we come across the gruesome reality of the situation, almost unexpectedly, in he midst of the normal, the boring, the completely innocuous. As she describes the preparation of the “meat”, taking great delight in explaining Lizzie’s recipes, we find ourselves reading with a constant grimace plastered on our faces, a sick feeling deep in our stomachs that probably comes close to Lizzie’s own. And yet. And yet, Young is obviously someone who knows her way around a kitchen and enjoys the simple pleasures of preparing meals. There’s something about her descriptive power that we find ourselves salivating at the thought of the meal being prepared, despite the knowledge of what it contains. Perhaps the most shocking thing about Season to Taste is the revelation, not entirely unexpected, and mentioned only in a single throwaway line, that Lizzie is not partaking of these meals alone.
At once gripping, wholeheartedly gruesome (Young seems to revel in the fact that just when you think you’ve experienced the worst there is, there is always something more still to be eked out of this incredible scenario) and darkly comic, Season to Taste or How to Eat Your Husband is one of the most original novels you’re likely to read, ever. With an attention to detail that is slightly scary, given the subject matter (Young has obviously done some thorough research), and the ability to make you want to simultaneously stop reading, and read faster, Natalie Young has done the unthinkable: she has taken an ordinary human being, placed her in an extraordinary situation, making her the villain of the piece in the process, and still manages to make the reader love her, root for her, want to see her succeed in her endeavours and, most importantly, get away with it. Often – and I know you’ll pardon the pun – hard to stomach, Season to Taste is like nothing you’ve ever read before, and pays dividends for those willing to stick with it and forge through the discomfort. It’s one of the best books you’ll read this year, and is guaranteed to stay with you for many years to come. I’m sure I’m not alone in being excited to see what Natalie Young has up her sleeve next; let’s just hope it doesn’t involve dinner.