Friday, March 6, 2009

Review: By Bread Alone

By Bread Alone by Sarah-Kate Lynch
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: I loved, loved her first book; got it for Christmas a few years ago and still hadn't read it; book with food in the title for the Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge

Summary: "For Esme MacDougall Stack, it began in a old boulangerie in southwest France, where artisan-baker Louis Lapoine first introduced the innocent 19-year-old to the arts of making bread and making love. And then he broke her heart. Fifteen years later, Esme is living by the English seaside with her family, still baking bread, but no longer the idealistic girl she once was. Then an unexpected encounter in a London restaurant sends her quiet life careening wildly off its axis forcing her to come to terms with the past and a tragedy that robbed her family of the joy and completeness they once knew."

First line: "The moment Esme's espadrilles hit the smooth stone floor deep down in the heart of the tiny boulangerie, she knew that up until then she herself had only been half-baked."

My thoughts: A few years ago I just loved Lynch's first novel, Blessed Are The Cheesemakers - a quirky, foodie romance with a hint of magic (we'd just discovered a dairy farm that sold great cheese curds and gouda, so it was one of those serendipitous reads). So I was eager to read her next book. I didn't enjoy it as much - the magical element in this one was less charming - Esme sees and talks to her dead grandmother (though Granny Mac is a wonderful old Scottish spitfire).

It's clear from the beginning that two years ago Esme and her family experienced a tragedy so terrible that it caused them to uproot their yuppie London life and move to The House in the Clouds, a 7-floor converted dovecote in a town by the sea. While we don't know what exactly it is for about half the book, it's clear that Esme isn't handling it well - her cheerful exterior is hiding deep sorrow and the visible evidence of it is that she stops her daily ritual of making sourdough bread. Rather than baking the bread, she finds herself thinking about the man who taught her to bake it in France, years ago, wondering if he was her true shot at happiness.

The tragedy and its aftermath is eventually revealed, when she pours out her heart to Louis after an encounter with him in London. The return of Louis nearly ruins everything, but thankfully Esme comes to her senses in time and her husband, Pog, is the sweetest, most loving of spouses. After this catharsis, Esme and her family (which include crotchety father-in-law Henry and seemingly difficult 4-year-old Rory) are able to heal and move on.

The situation that brings everything to a head is a bit far-fetched and things get maybe a tiny bit movie-of-the-week at the end. But the book is balanced by ridiculous moments at the sky-high house (several involving animal urination) and Esme is fun and eccentric, though I found that her grief-driven behaviour made her sometimes unlikeable until everything is revealed. Pog is a treasure, mainly because he views Esme as his treasure - it's a great portrayal of true love.

The verdict: The book is definitely an ode to bread, so don't read it if you're on the Atkins Diet! If you only have time for one foodie read, go for Blessed Are The Cheesemakers, but this one is worth a read, especially if you're a baker and/or a bread-lover.


Melissa said...

I love bread, so maybe I'll read this one... I really like the first sentence, too. It's always a bummer when you absolutely love a first book by an author and the next one doesn't quite live up, isn't it?

Captain Nick Sparrow said...

If I find it used I will give it a try. Thanks!