this is not a review — ‘in the spice house’, by marnie woodrow

Only just recently discovered this quirky and quite lovely book, published in 1996—another testament to the riches that are CanLit and the fact that so many gems are present for but a moment, before the next thing takes its place… for but a moment.

In other words, it’s easy to miss a few.

I divide books into four categories: new-new, old-new, old favourites, and books I’ve heard nothing about and got merely on a whim. Often, that’s where the treasures are found and, to be honest, it’s my favourite pile. No prejudice nor expectation, no hoopla to live up to… a book from this pile can just be a book.
[Is it just me or does it seem that titles receiving the most hoopla are very often the least hoopla-worthy, while so many gems fly under the radar….]

Blather aside, in the spice house was a delicious find indeed. And a much-needed palate cleanser from the recently hoopla’d.

The food references are not accidental.

Each story [there are 16] in this collection centres around or focuses on or incorporates food and relationships in bold and unexpected ways, which, in my world, is more important than plot. Although there’s plenty of that detail also.

In ‘Mamamilk’ a woman is confronted by a child she lost due to neglect and other slovenly habits. ‘Belly’ is a bit of sarcastic pleasure about home ownership. It begins: “I’m holding a brunch in honour of my lucky friends, the ones with two-car garages and split level lives.” [FYI: brunch takes an ominous turn.]  ‘Suck’ is about a chef who loses all self control while watching people eat, and ‘King Cake’ offers up traditional New Orleans fare along with some distinctly original revenge. In ’32 Flavours’ a rapist rues the day he walked into an ice-cream parlour. ‘To Market To Market’ takes us on a ride in more ways than one, and in ‘Obvious Need and Senseless Longing’ Elizabeth David’s death leads to a dangerous romance with the knife obsessed. It begins, “I gave up drinking in favour of buying cookbooks.” 

The shortest piece is ‘One Lip’, a sort of fairy tale about the end of love and its inherent difficulties.41twt9hKaVL__SL500_AA300_

The longest, ‘Madame Frye’, is about an unhappily married woman who works in a fish and chips shop and longs to go to Bora Bora or have an affair with a patron named Melinda, whichever comes first. It takes the form of something like diary entries, alternating in the wife’s voice and that of her ultra savvy daughter Penny [it’s her voice that makes it].

The stories are short, bite-sized things, and written in prose that feels like a conversation over lunch with some wonderfully wild and free-thinking companion who never uses the same voice twice in her ‘tellings’—here, listen to this one, each narrator seems to be saying as we sip our Chardonnay, break a piece of baguette, lean forward.

And then we start on the cheese, the olives, order some more wine, all the while leaning in even further…

Viva long-lost gems.


3 thoughts on “this is not a review — ‘in the spice house’, by marnie woodrow

  1. no expectation is best. people I have liked books by before leave me in dread. I want to like them and you can’t see if you’re straining within a bias.

    1. Straining is exactly the right word. The times I’ve read something and wondered ‘why am I not loving this?? I’m SUPPOSED to love it…’

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