A woman in her 40s sheds toxic parents and boorish husband for Provençal sun.
British author Kabak’s debut opens on a Sunday in 1995, when Kate Fanshaw, née Cadogan, returns to her suburban home—lovingly restored and renovated over 18 years—to find it trashed after her teenage son’s house party. She gets no sympathy from her jock husband Rodney, who merely plunks himself in front of the telly with his dinner. Later, she passes out and dreams of a spiral stairway leading to a door marked, well—nevermore. Nevermore will she sleep with Rodney, who has lately adopted bizarre sexual practices featuring epaulets. Thus the frame story gives way to the novel proper, a journey through ’60s, ’70s and ’80s England, detailing Kate’s coming of age and middle years. From early on, her mother, difficult, narcissistic Biddy, and her father, loving but too wussy to stand up to Biddy, disparage Kate’s interest in Domestic Science and overzealously guard her virtue. Shoehorned into an education major by her parents, she becomes an elementary schoolteacher and is betrayed by her fiancé, Jack. Her friends Moira and Ingrid and her Welsh paternal grandparents are her only constants. On the rebound from Jack, she marries prosperous Rodney but is marginalized by his eccentric family. Rodney devotes himself mostly to sports and his Masonic lodge, and doesn’t object when his smarmy pal Todd hits on Kate. Kate devotes herself to son Charlie and cooking, her weight yo-yoing. Periodically, her parents lure her home, where she falls back into her childlike posture, alternately nurtured and slapped. Back to 1995. Kate wonders why she stood it for so long, and so do we. When her mother opposes Kate’s move to France and sides with Rodney in the divorce, Kate divorces her parents as well.
Kabak’s gift for describing wonderful food and décor, and her way of encapsulating decades in a few swift strokes, take this tale beyond the standard middle-age revenge formula.