22 May 2014.
The idea of prefacing each chapter with a recipe is quite well established but here we have genuine-sounding Eighteenth Century receipts to fit the setting of the book. Undercook Biddy Leigh at Mawton Hall in the north of England finds herself reluctantly embroiled in a trip to Italy in 1772. She accompanies her elderly master's new young wife and records her experiences in a diary cum cookery book as she travels. Her ability to read and write provide part of her significance in the story. Letters from and to home form a valuable way of developing the reader's understanding of the tale.
There is a mystery at the centre of events that frightens Biddy and she is forced to rely on her own wits to protect herself from the dangers around her. The journey is fascinating as the small party cross England and France into Tuscany. Each member of the party is characterised well and their interactions give hints of the central obsessions. Biddy is a charming girl with a zest for life and a burning desire to cook well. Her impression of foreign cuisine is, therefore, not an insular one. Her actions within the drama are understandable, if not always wise, and she shows her adaptability in rather surprising ways as she strives for survival in a hostile world.
This is an appealing book with a dramatic finale followed by a neat tying up if all the loose ends.
Martine lives in Cheshire, England after recently returning from a 20-month stay in New Zealand. She is married with one son and is currently writing a second historical novel for Hodder & Stoughton.