Monday, 1 April 2013

A read to DEVOUR

This post is 10 days late because of technical difficulties

Hey there book zombies I’m back as promised keeping good to my word that I will be reviewing book swag I nabbed…*ahem*… I mean a selection of books generously given by those lovely peeps at Hot Key Books. So what better to begin with than a write up of the Brilliant…
The Savages 
Matt Whyman
Pub Date: 06/06/13


What? You want more? Was the above statement too subtle? Okay fair enough I guess I should back it up.

Matt Whyman has crafted a wonderfully dark comic tale of family life centred around a teenage girls coming of age drama. In under 26 pages you already know the character of each family member and leaves you hungrily wanting to read on and find out more about them after tantalising hints at a shocking ending.
The formidable father of the Savage family, Titus, is a city wolf, known for being a cut throat business man, and someone you do not want to cross in matters of business or family. Angelica is the devoted wife to Titus and the perfect home maker, a cross between Nigella Lawson and Martha Stewart. Her culinary skill is only matched by her razor sharp sense of style. She is also the mother of three little Savages, Sasha the eldest daughter, who has just begun to discover, much to the horror of her parents, boys & vegetarianism. If her father found out she had a veggie boyfriend and was going vegetarian he would skin her alive! The middle child is Ivan the school prankster who is known for his killer gags and is eager to follow in his fathers footsteps in upholding the family traditions. Little katya is the baby Savage whose last tooth has come through,which means she can chew meat and finally join in the families special feast's that the eldest Savage Grandpa Oleg began back in his mother country.
Like many psychologists the Savage's firmly believe that a family who eats together stays together, and it is an adage that these average suburbanites have turned into a custom that has been going strong for three generations, and will continue to thrive as the family grows. Oh did I mention the Savage families tradition is CANNIBALISM!
Yes that's right the Savage family are CANNIBALS, only don't let Titus hear you call his family that. To him cannibals are wild men boiling people in pots, he and his family are connoisseurs, they merely have a more advanced taste palette than say you or I. The Savages are even willing to have you around for dinner to prove it!

What the author does is very clever in that throughout the book carnivores, vegetarians, vegans, even Junk food eaters are spoken of as almost different species, tribes of human beings with their own sets of rules and food based religion, and throughout the book you get the sense of a battle brewing, that these clans will go to war for their beliefs, and the carnivores are not the only ones willing to kill! But what if you wanted to explore your eating habits? What if after years of chops,chicken and chipolatas you want to try eating meals that are more tofu than T-bone? Defect to the enemy side as it were! well this is the situation that Sasha Savage finds herself in and even though it is dramatised because she is from a family of cannibals it is a very realistic portrayal of what a person can go through when they change their diet for whatever reason, because basically people are funny about the subject of food.
For instance I'm, if I have to class myself, a vegetarian, and my decisions over the years with regards to my diet have often been met with ridicule, and a lack of understanding i.e. its just plain weird, and I can't really be enjoying what I am eating because I don't have lamb on my plate like everyone else.
And it's not just from my meat eating family but also vegetarians and vegans I have met, who are quick to say 'Ohhhh, so your not a REAL vegetarian then' like I haven't really committed to the 'faith' or because I have fish maybe 4 or 5 times a year that makes me a 'pescetarian' Seriously what's with all the labels?
I gave up red meat (except bacon) 12 years ago, became vegetarian 5 years ago and gave up dairy products gradually over the last 2 years.  As I said, I do indulge in fish and chips now and again, and I will eat a cheese sandwich if it is the only veggie option going (Mozzarella and pesto is like kryptonite to me) and have been known to partake of a cream filled chocolate éclair if one happens to be loitering in my vicinity. Oh and my all time favourite flavour of crisps, and still is, is bacon (Oooh I could murder a packet of Frazzles!) So Matt's book really resonated with me, not on the craving human flesh front, even though it is supposed to WARNING GROSS FACT ALERT taste like bacon....umm excuse me for a moment *grabs coat, disappears for 10 minutes, returns, takes off coat and sits back down in front of computer munching a jumbo bag of bacon rasher crisps*....What?....As I was saying given that my reasons for leading a more veggie lifestyle had nothing to do with animal cruelty, although that now plays a part, or even for health reasons, but purely because it is what I prefer and I feel better for it.  As the author says in his book there's no point beating yourself up over whether you should only eat this or not eat that it should be about what feels good, and I completely agree.
Needless to say food is a large part of the novel it is almost a character itself, it is discussed in a plethora of eating habits and situations from snacking in the car, school lunches in the park to celebratory picnics in the office and family meals, and features in every chapter so the subject matter is constantly in your mind, which is a clever trick because when you get to the parts where the family discuss making various meaty delicacies from human flesh it is jarring in its everyday casualness, and makes it all the more horrific. Another genius method the author utilises is keeping away from gory detail, and there are plenty of opportunities for the tale to be taken in that direction, but instead Whyman relies on uncomfortable situations that are made all the more uncomfortable, because as a reader, you know the inner workings of the Savage characters, and also on subtly grotesque facts, some of which will keep you looking over your shoulder the next time you’re on a crowded train.  This achieves a continually creeping sense of unease for the reader.
What also makes it an uncomfortable read is the fact that even though you know the family are monsters, not all of them are necessarily evil,  you still find things about the characters to like because they are written with complexity and emotion so that even though what they have been and are doing is horrific you still have hope for them, hope that someone will cry for help, break the cycle, the savages are essentially a family caught in a cycle of abuse where as within such dynamics the familial bonds are twisted so they have become bound together by a shared dark secret, a secret you know is going to be told, but will it be revealed in time.
You also know that someone is going to die somewhere along the lines, let’s face it, you’re not going to read a book about Cannibals and expect chapters filled with teddy bears and rainbows but right up until the end you are left guessing.  Is it one of the children's teachers?  A nosey neighbour? maybe the boyband boyfriend, or the annoying food activist?  Could it even be a member of the Savage family itself destined for the fava beans and a nice chianti?  You just don't know, because what the author does is follow a tried and tested recipe for a horror/thriller novel but makes a few changes to the standard ingredients so just when you think you have the flavour of the characters or a situation nailed down, it switches, changes your mind then flips back onto your original path, but leaves you in shock all the same, because it still is not what you expected. 
The story works on many levels be it a study of abusive family life, Nature Versus Nurture or just as a great black comedy romp.  Sam Whyman has penned a brilliant, mystery thriller/ family drama/comedy horror/teen angst romance, genre spanning novel filled with twists and turns that Hitchcock would be proud of. This is a fantastic novel and one that I could see, easily lending itself to film.
If you are a fan of Lemony Snicket's Unfortunate Events Series and are looking for something a bit older, or a fan of dark humour and wanting a fast paced, entertaining quick read that stays with you days after finishing it, then this is the ideal book for you, and trust me when I say, you'll end up rethinking your junk food eating habits after reading, The Savages.

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Right I'm off to have dinner with Maggie Stiefvater yes the Maggie Stievfater, at the aptly named Bleeding Heart Bistro in Holborn will fill you in on any goss tomorrow.

See you in hell

The Librarian

Next book up for review is

Pub Date: 25/04/2013

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