Book Review: The Language of Food

Poetry is not the business of a lady.

Annabel Abbs ~ The Language of Food


England 1837. Eliza Acton is a poet who dreams of seeing her words in print. But when she takes her new manuscript to a publisher, she’s told that ‘poetry is not the business of a lady’. Instead, they want her to write a cookery book. England is awash with exciting new ingredients, from spices to exotic fruits. That’s what readers really want from women.

Eliza leaves the offices appalled. But when her father is forced to flee the country for bankruptcy, she has no choice but to consider the proposal. Never having cooked before in her life, she is determined to learn and to discover, if she can, the poetry in recipe writing. To assist her, she hires seventeen-year-old Ann Kirby, the impoverished daughter of a war-crippled father and a mother with dementia.

Over the course of ten years, Eliza and Ann developed an unusual friendship – one that crossed social classes and divides – and, together, they broke the mould of traditional cookbooks and changed the course of cookery writing forever. 


Historical fiction, cooking and writing? Sign me up!

I’m always nervous when I have high expectations of a book, especially when it perfectly aligns to my interests.

Eliza Acton was a fascinating, but not very well-known, woman. Using her as inspiration, author Annabel Abbs has woven together several storylines that provide us with insight into the Victorian period and how it was for women. However, there is no deviation from the story to push a political agenda. The plot is succinct and focused, with only necessary additional facts to help to tell the story.

Yet there is also poetry. Abbs is an excellent writer and I could picture the shops, buildings and kitchens perfectly. I completely agree that there is a lyrical edge to recipes. Having recently edited a cookery book, I can understand the frustrations of early recipes that had no rhyme or reason and enjoyed seeing Eliza become so aroused by the combinations of spice, flavour and ingredients. Food is linked to our history, culture and family so telling its story correctly is imperative.

The relationship between Eliza and Ann feels genuine, yet hearing each of the characters’ stories, we learn more about them as people and how that has shaped their approach and ideals.

The book does end rather abruptly, which is a shame. I would have liked the story to continue and see what became of Eliza and her dreams although it has inspired me to find out more about her and Mrs Beeton.

That said, this is a beautifully crafted story, that will make you fall in love with cooking all over again.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I received a copy from Random Things Tours. Opinions my own.

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