There are many reasons to bake: to feed; to create; to impress; to nourish; to define ourselves; and, sometimes, it has to be said, to perfect. But often we bake to fill a hunger that would be better filled by a simple gesture from a dear one. We bake to love and be loved.
In 1966, Kathleen Eaden, cookery writer and wife of a supermarket magnate, published The Art of Baking, her guide to nurturing a family by creating the most exquisite pastries, biscuits and cakes.
Now, five amateur bakers are competing to become the New Mrs Eaden. There’s Jenny, facing an empty nest now her family has flown; Claire, who has sacrificed her dreams for her daughter; Mike, trying to parent his two kids after his wife’s death; Vicki, who has dropped everything to be at home with her baby boy; and Karen, perfect Karen, who knows what it’s like to have nothing and is determined her façade shouldn’t slip.
As unlikely alliances are forged and secrets rise to the surface, making the choicest choux bun seems the least of the contestants’ problems. For they will learn – as Mrs Eaden did before them – that while perfection is possible in the kitchen, it’s very much harder in life.
Although I copy it carefully to start all my blog posts, I very rarely read the “blurb” on a book before I read it. So when I say that this book wasn’t at all what I was expecting, you won’t shout at me, will you? The Art Of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan has been around in hardcover and for kindle since July last year, but the paperback was published by Hodder on 13th August. With GBBO fever and the sales of baking goods rising daily, this is surely bound to be one of the paperback releases of the summer. But when it sells in its thousands, it won’t only be because of its serendipitous timing: this book is a really, really good read.
I’m not sure what I was expecting really – maybe something a little less tasty, a bit more of a soggy bottom? It’s a light read in many ways – an ensemble piece that reminded me a lot of the likes of Lucy Diamond, but with some dark secrets and serious issues lying just under the surface. I loved the extracts from the original Art Of Baking – the author’s creation, but it’s very easy to forget! The story of Kathleen Eaden that punctuates the contemporary stories of the competition contestants was often the most fascinating one for me, something that raised the book above the chick lit read it might have been.
Among the contemporary stories – woven together with great dexterity – there were those I liked better than others. I took Jenny to my heart immediately, with her obnoxious marathon-running husband declining her offerings: I also loved Vicki’s relationship with her mother. Karen was a little stereotypical for my tastes, and Claire didn’t entirely convince me either. Mike had potential – but doesn’t really get enough of the spotlight.
The cookery competition – the cookery elements overall, really – was so well done. Watching it unfold gave me the same feeling as watching the tv competition – but strangely, the winner doesn’t really matter, the journey (a bit X-Factor? sorry…) is what’s important.
I think I must be fair, and say that there were times when I felt it did give itself away a little as a first novel – the odd bit of clunky phrasing, the very occasional wince at dialogue. But please don’t get me wrong – this book is very, very good, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I look forward to watching Sarah Vaughan rise to the dizzy heights with whatever she takes on next.
My thanks to netgalley and publishers Hodder & Stoughton for my advance reading copy.
Sarah Vaughan read English at Oxford and went on to be a journalist. After training with the Press Association, she worked for The Guardian for 11 years as a news reporter, health correspondent and political correspondent. She started writing fiction after deciding to freelance. The Art of Baking Blind – published by Hodder (UK and Canada), St Martin’s Press (US) and translated into eight languages – is the result. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and two young children and is currently writing her second novel.
P.S. This review is actually part of Sarah’s blog tour for The Art Of Baking Blind, but there was a teeny problem with the banner and I sadly wasn’t included! I won’t hold it against her though – and do have a look at some of the excellent reviews from my fellow bloggers.