#Review: The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs @annabelabbs @simonschusterUK @RandomTTours #newrelease #blogtour #TheLanguageofFood

By | February 10, 2022

It’s an immense pleasure today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs. Published by Simon & Schuster on 3rd February, this wonderful book is now available on all major e-book platforms, in hardcover (and isn’t that cover one you’d love to have on your shelves?) and as an audiobook. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invitation and support – the copy I read was the kindle version (with thanks to Anne and the publishers), but thank you too to Sara-Jade Virtue who sent me the proof paperback copy that initially piqued my interest.

I’m so pleased to have finally been able to read a book from Annabel – I remember being enthusiastic about reading and reviewing The Joyce Girl, her first novel, back in 2016, but think life must have intervened in the way it so often does. I also inexplicably missed out on reading and reviewing Frieda in 2018 – one I know I’d have really enjoyed given my fascination with DH Lawrence and his life, and can only guess that life threw its slings and arrows again around the time it was published. I really didn’t want to miss out again (and I really must catch up with the earlier books when I can) – the early reviews of this book made it entirely unmissable, and I’m so glad life is now following a more predictable path and that I was able to add it to my reading list.

England 1835. Eliza Acton is a poet who dreams of seeing her words in print. But when she takes her new manuscript to a publisher, she’s told that ‘poetry is not the business of a lady’. Instead, they want her to write a cookery book. That’s what readers really want from women. England is awash with exciting new ingredients, from spices to exotic fruits. But no one knows how to use them


Eliza leaves the offices appalled. But when her father is forced to flee the country for bankruptcy, she has no choice but to consider the proposal. Never having cooked before, she is determined to learn and to discover, if she can, the poetry in recipe writing. To assist her, she hires seventeen-year-old Ann Kirby, the impoverished daughter of a war-crippled father and a mother with dementia.


Over the course of ten years, Eliza and Ann developed an unusual friendship – one that crossed social classes and divides – and, together, they broke the mould of traditional cookbooks and changed the course of cookery writing forever.

Historical fiction isn’t for everyone, I know – there was a time when I could only digest it as part of a dual time-thread story, often engaging more with the contemporary story. But if you’re one of those readers less than sure that this book would be something you’d enjoy, I’d urge you to give it a try – I thought it was quite wonderful. Are you perhaps a foodie, maybe enjoy cooking? Eliza Acton’s name might just already be familiar – we have her to thank for the way our recipes are formatted today, with their lists of measured ingredients preceding the description of the method. Or you might enjoy a book with strong women at its core – the characterisation in this book is simply superb, two women from very different backgrounds. Eliza is a gentlewoman who’s fallen on hard times, her assistant Ann from a life of poverty, and their unlikely friendship produces sheer magic as they create and test their recipes and record the results as the basis for a book that changes the course of domestic cookery.

This book drew me in from the very beginning – Eliza’s poetry isn’t what her publisher’s looking for, and his request for a cookery book as something he could sell horrifies her as someone who’s never soiled her hands in the kitchen. But her straitened circumstances see her taking over the preparation of food for their succession of lodgers – and her enthusiasm steadily grows as she sees the inadequacies of the other works currently seen as staples. Ann becomes her kitchen assistant – finding some sanctuary from her difficult life, with a mother afflicted by dementia and a father drinking away whatever meagre earnings they may have – handling produce she’s never before seen or tasted, slowly gaining the confidence to suggest changes and improvements to the recipes they devise together.

The author creates the world they inhabit quite perfectly – what must have been extensive and meticulous research into the period (the book starts in 1835) seamlessly becomes the world they live in. Outside the kitchen, it’s a world that has limited opportunities or expectations for women – Eliza herself is something of an oddity as a mature spinster, and her mother has hopes that marriage might still be a possibility for her, however unlikely. It’s the women in this book who fascinate. Ann carries the weight of her family’s problems, naive in many ways but also possessed of a wisdom that means you can’t help but take her to your heart: Eliza certainly has her eccentricities and oddness, but also a kind heart and warmth that makes her equally beguiling.

The writing is simply wonderful, flowing and elegant – in many ways, this is an easy read (I raced through it), but the story itself is filled with unexpected twists and turns, moments that can’t fail to bring a tear to your eye, other times when you find yourself willing the women on as they overcome their next insurmountable obstacle. Giving both women first person narratives was the perfect choice – as the reader, it draws you into the heart of the story and makes you feel part of their world in a way that’s frequently attempted but rarely so well achieved. It’s a book that really makes you feel, and very deeply – and the more descriptive passages, always beautifully written, appeal to all the senses, particularly where the food is involved.

It’s an immensely powerful read, and one that left a very deep and lasting impression – without question, this will be one of my books of the year.

About the author

Annabel Abbs is the rising star of biographical historical novels. She grew up in Bristol, Sussex and Wales before studying English Literature at the University of East Anglia. Her debut novel The Joyce Girl won the Impress Prize and was a Guardian Reader’s Pick and her second novel Frieda: The Original Lady Chatterley was a Times 2018 Book of the Year. She regularly appears on national and regional media, with recent appearances on Radio 4 Woman’s Hour and Sky News, and is popular on the literary festival circuit. She was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award, the Caledonia Novel Award and the Waverton GoodRead Award. Annabel lives in London with her husband and four children.

Abbs’s third novel, The Language of Food, the story of Eliza Acton, Britain’s first domestic goddess, publishes in the UK in February 2022 and is currently being translated into 14 languages.

“When I inherited a collection of antiquarian cookery books I suspected a story might be lurking in one of them. Researching and writing the story of Britain’s first domestic goddess has been a wonderful culinary adventure.” – Annabel Abbs

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5 thoughts on “#Review: The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs @annabelabbs @simonschusterUK @RandomTTours #newrelease #blogtour #TheLanguageofFood

    1. Anne Post author

      Thanks Joanne – very much enjoyed yours too!

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