Thursday, 14 July 2011

Veggie Books: We Were the Mulvaneys

Some books bulge with vegetables. Usually these books are cookbooks by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall (I love him) but sometimes these books are novels. We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates is awash with vegetables, and fruit, and growing, and life, and death, and organic emotions of love and hate and pain and more death. And forgiveness. And vegetables. The book even looks ripe. The pages don't sit flat. They curl outwards, as if they are flowers responding to sunlight.

Mainly that's because I left it out in the sunlight last Saturday, though.

It's exhausting to be inside the heads of characters in the way that Joyce Carol Oates puts you inside the heads of characters. You feel like you've been digging in fields for hours at a time, excavating personality-dirt.

The Mulvaneys were a very happy family, but the only daughter goes through a terrible experience and instead of helping her, the family falls apart. Why is that? The image was more important than the reality for them, I think. But this is open to interpretation. All good literary novels going into this amount of psychological depth allow you to add your own interpretation, right? That's what this kind of novel is for. It's not going to give you answers. It's going to make you work.

I can see why people read Mills and Boons occasionally.

It's a wonderful book, even if it does make you sweat. Here's a veg-heavy section where the daughter, Marianne, goes to visit her brother Patrick in college. He cannot forgive what has happened to her. Yet she never blamed anybody but herself. Marianne cooks a meal. She's become a wonderful cook; she likes to give freely of her food. She brought the ingredients with her specially.

They sat down to eat. Marianne's minestrone was the most delicious soup Patrick had ever tasted; steaming-hot, in stoneware bowls, a thick broth seasoned with fresh basil and oregano, containing chunks of celery, tomato, carrots, red onion, beans, chickpeas and macaroni. The nine-grain whole wheat bread was crumbly, chewy, delicious, too. And a green salad with red leaf lettuce and endive, cucumber, peper, alfalfa sprouts, a vinegar-and-oil dressing flavoured with dill. Patrick was surprised at his appetite, his hunger.

Doesn't that paragraph make you feel full up? Phew. It's a novel about the unsaid, and what living in the darkness of secrecy does to people. Well worth the effort if you want something chewy.

4 comments:

C. N. Nevets said...

Veggies and excavation in the same post. My day is complete.

And I need to rush home and start some minestrone on the boil.

Aliya Whiteley said...

I know what you mean. That minestrone sounds better than any minestrone I've ever eaten.

Hey, I should start a restaurant of literary meals! Joyce Carol Oates Minestrone would definitely be on the menu. *ponders other menu choices*

Frances Garrood said...

Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea had some good foodie things. Oh - and Elizabeth Luard's Family Life is full of recipes you could use in your restaurant. And you could have Three Bears porridge, and some of the disgusting recipes from The Twits, to amuse the children.

Not much in the way of vegetables there, though. Oh, yes - you could have an enormous turnip!

Aliya Whiteley said...

Cool! Yes, Mrs Twit's spaghetti might be winner. Of course, the spaghetti is actually worms...