An ingenious title does not always foretell clever content; it happens, however, with John Skotnes’s A Novel Cuisine. This lighthearted romp set in Cape Town, South Africa, is witty and titillating, if initially frustrating – the latter because of the main character’s conflicting characteristics: Norman Frye is at once arrogant, sensitive, funny, vulnerable and acerbic.
Norman, a blogger with vast knowledge of food, wine and art, discovers his long-time partner, Ivy, in bed with a younger man. The plot then follows Norman’s attempts to move his life forward. Within days of his discovery, Norman becomes involved with another woman, Gabriella, who is anxious to meet to his mother; all three women are central to explaining his personality.
Each chapter starts with an entry from Norman’s blog. The posts reflect his subtle (or not so subtle) mood changes. In the process, without relinquishing any of his inherent traits, Norman’s personality begins to jell and he becomes likeable. The novel is an entertaining, multi-layered love story with a late-developing lite-mystery involving Norman’s mother.
That said, Skotnes would have benefited from a more discerning editor. A meeting mentioned as taking place on a Sunday, for example, suddenly happens on Monday. The author follows British writing protocols that American readers might find offputting; this is most apparent with commas and quotation marks. In addition, Skotnes’ Cape Town colloquialisms – words like “whinging” (griping), “lekker” (cool), and “champers” (champagne) – will make readers unfamiliar with those terms feel as if they’re being excluded from a private club.
Nonetheless, A Novel Cuisine is an amusing tale of entanglement. Readers will especially delight in the delectable descriptions of foodie Norman’s past and present meals: “lamb shanks, each on a bed of mashed sweet potato, saturated in a sauce made from being slowly cooked in three cups of red wine …”
Also available in hardcover and ebook.