Book - Cursed Bread

Tony Cross is reading all the books on this year's Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist. Here are his thoughts on Cursed Bread by Sophie Mackintosh ...

This short novel, narrated by a woman called Elodie, is about the relationship between Elodie, her husband – a baker; Violet and her husband – the American Ambassador. It seems to be an intimate and intense story about the relationship between the four, especially Violet and Elodie but it turns out to swallow up the whole village.

Part of the novel is narrated directly by Elodie and part is letters from Elodie to Violet. We become aware as the story goes on that Violet and Elodie don’t speak to each other anymore and that most of the village are dead. And no one is quite sure what caused it. The story is loosely based on a real event that happened in the summer of 1951 in France.

Does the poisonous relationship bleed over into the whole town? Or is it a batch of dodgy flour? Does it even matter for the purposes of the book?

The book seems to focused on power dynamics: of men and women; rich and poor; love and lust. This book is filled with desire and longing, which with a melodramatic touch – and can desire and longing be anything but melodramatic – you can really feel.

Sophie Mackintosh writes well, but…I didn’t enjoy this book. Sometimes you just don’t like a book even when you can see its quality. I have tried to analyse why and all I can say is there is something in the book’s atmosphere that I can’t quite get. It’s claustrophobic and uncomfortable. And perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood for something like that at this point.

I would be interested in reading more of Sophie Mackintosh’s work because the quality of the writing and the book’s organisation were admirable. It’s just not my cup of tea. Weirdly – and I wonder if Mackintosh would like this comparison – it reminded me of a Martin Amis novel. And I like some of Amis’s work and I don’t like – indeed I actively hate – some of it. I wonder if Mackintosh will be one of those writers.

I’m aware this review is more about me than the book, which is so very 2023 but that’s because the book itself is well-crafted. The story is interesting. The characters, especially the women, are well-drawn but there is just something about it I can’t enjoy.

So, I say this is worth a read even if it isn’t for me. I suspect this will be someone’s favourite book of 2023.

Follow Tony on Twitter @Lokster71

Image - Amazon

The 16 longlisted books for this year's Women's Prize for Fiction are as follows:

Black Butterflies by Priscilla Morris
Children of Paradise by Camilla Grudova - READ TONY'S REVIEW HERE
Cursed Bread by Sophie Mackintosh
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
Fire Rush by Jacqueline Crooks
Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo - READ TONY'S REVIEW HERE
Homesick by Jennifer Croft
I’m a Fan by Sheena Patel
Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
Pod by Laline Paull
Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes
The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff
The Dog of the North by Elizabeth McKenzie
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
Trespasses by Louise Kennedy
Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin

The winner will be announced on 14th June.

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