A British university graduate sets out on a journey of self-discovery when he’s forced to break a sweat in an asylumlike kitchen in Camden Town.
Freelance journalist Wroe employs his experience as a chef in an uneven debut novel that tries to shoehorn in a few too many stylistic moods. Our narrator is a recent graduate of one of London’s many English literature programs and believes himself the next wunderkind of the publishing scene. As his hopes are dashed on the rocks of reality, he takes a job as the resident “bitch” in a rough-hewn kitchen called The Swan, where he's quickly dubbed “Monacle” by the crew. This ensemble comedy is the best part of the novel, pitting the sensitive writer against merciless head chef Bob, the aptly named “Racist Dave,” a salacious molester named Ramilov, daft pastry chef Dibden, and a quiet, dark-eyed girl named Harmony who captures Monacle’s heart. After the crew sabotages a monstrous creation similar to a turducken, Bob is ousted and Monacle holds out slim hope of promotion. “No, you’re still the bitch. But a loved bitch,” Ramilov tells him. It’s in the back half that the tale takes a dark turn, interrupted by wearisome meditations from Monacle on his troubled childhood and his relationship with his father, who turns up on his son’s doorstep all too often. Following the arch comedy of The Swan’s kitchen and the familial drama, Wroe finishes his kitchen epic with a monstrous encounter with an unsavory local crime lord that may leave even the most jaded readers a bit shocked. “Then the bad news,” shares Monacle. “I was arrested almost immediately, along with Ramilov, on unrelated but extremely serious charges, the charges that form the dark heart of the story.” Proceed with caution.
For British readers, David Nicholls meets Guy Ritchie; for Americans, Dave Eggers channels Anthony Bourdain.