I’m back, everyone! Did you miss me? Maybe? No?
It’s been nearly a month since I last blogged as I was on a temporary hiatus due to a mixture of packing to move flat (six times in two years!) and book writing. The good news is I’m more or less three quarters through draft number one and have 187 pages written. So, what better way to kick off the blog again than with a book review?
The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa is one of the latest offerings from Alma Books. It follows the story of 23 year old Rinko, a waitress who returns home to the flat she shares with her boyfriend to find that he has left her and taken literally every single thing in her house except for an old pickle jar from her grandmother. Traumatised, she loses her voice and is unable to speak. Taking the jar, Rinko inexplicably hops on the bus and returns to the village that she left at the age of 15. There, she meets her estranged and voluptuous mother who runs a bar and opens up her own little restaurant, ‘The Snail’, with the money she loans her. The strange thing about this little restaurant is that there is no menu and Rinko must meet with her guests the day before to learn their hopes, dreams and fears in order to create the perfect dish.
I was intrigued by the plot of this book, being a lover of good food, and was not disappointed. My favourite thing about it is how vividly the author portrays not only the tastes of the food, but everything else from the preparation to texture to serving. It’s extremely descriptive in parts and, reading this on the tube during my commute, it made me very hungry and really wanting to go home and prepare an exciting meal. Sadly, this never actually happened when I was reading but it has given me a few ideas! However, it’s not just the food itself but the effect it has on people that makes this book unique. Rinko very much believes that food prepared in the right way can change people for the better, or at the very least make them happier for a while. The diners who she help range from an elderly mistress who has lost her love for life to a schoolgirl who want to confess her feelings to a boy she likes to, strangest of all, a rabbit. My favourite of these diners was the elderly lady, mostly because of the meal that Rinko prepares for her and the reasons behind it. I couldn’t resist sharing a short extract, which I’ll share below.
At first I thought of selecting the best local ingredients to create something that was kind to the body – like fried shiitake mushrooms, seasoned tofu, root-vegetable soup or steamed-egg pudding. These were exactly the kind of things my grandmother had taught me to make. But after thinking about it a little more, I decided to scrap the idea and start again. Then I came up with another notion – a meal designed to express the full range of human emotion, from delight to sorrow and from anger to pleasure. It would be a stimulating dinner encompassing an array of flavours, with desserts being soft and sweet, and spicy dishes bursting with heat. A dinner of flavours I imagined she’d never tasted before. A dinner with the power to bring the dying cells of her body back to life.
I did have two problems with this book, however. The first of these was the lack of explanation for the boyfriend’s disappearance. Rinko is a bit of an odd ball and her focus is on food for much of the novel, and the only times we get a glimpse into who her boyfriend was like is through flashbacks of the meals they prepared together. For her, food is the only way that she can explain her emotions which, while very interesting and different, is also frustrating. Obviously, the boyfriend isn’t exactly a nice person and gives no reason for why he left but Rinko never mentions any changes in his behaviour or character traits which might explain why he chose to take everything from the apartment. The reason for this is probably because it is something that she cannot explain through food and the author is making the reader draw their own conclusions. Even still, none of my questions were even partially answered.
Rinko’s relationship with her mother also left me perplexed. The two are not at all connected and could not be any more different; the mother being loud and flirtatious, and Rinko shy and unable to speak a word. Again, the thing that ultimately brings them together in food, which is described in great detail, perhaps too much detail for some readers. However, there were some very strange, almost ridiculous revelations, in the book which Rinko reacts to in the strangest way possible. Much of her thoughts and feelings are expressed in the paragraphs in which she is cooking, an interesting concept as she can’t speak for herself, but even then it’s not always clear how she is actually feeling or whether she is actually bothered by anything else around her other than food.
Overall, I did enjoy The Restaurant of Love Regained. The idea behind the story is very different and stylistically very interesting, as the narrator very much speaks through food and not words. However, there is a sense of overkill with the descriptions in some places and the some of the big questions raised in the book are never answered in any way. I feel it had a sense of Haruki Murakami about it; weird, wonderful but very much forcing you to draw your own conclusions. It’s challenging and frustrating to read in some places but I’ve not come across anything like it. For that reason, this will be December’s Book of the Month!
Next week: There’s an exciting Christmas countdown coming up, as well as a competition!