Natalie Young, author of Season to Taste, says her book about a cannibalistic woman is for the isolated, anxious person within everyone
British author Natalie Young is two books old, with her second book, Season to Taste, having released recently. The book has gained much attention for its plot, the tale of a woman who spontaneously murders her husband of 30 years and proceeds to cut him up, cook parts of his body and eat it. While the jury is still out on its long-term cultural impact, Season To Taste has joined a select few books that do not shy away from giving artistic expression to the fissures in society. Natalie speaks of her work with the same detached humour that marks her writing. Excerpts from an e-mail interview:
You’ve mentioned your recent divorce and feelings attached to that time of your life as being inspirations for the book. How did cannibalism emerge as a central theme?
The idea came to me one afternoon when I was sitting at my kitchen table having a cup of tea. I had been thinking about this woman in the woods for a long time. Suddenly I understood that she had killed her husband — the man she’d been married to for 30 years. She’d hit him over the head with a shovel one Monday morning when he was out digging a hole in the garden. I understood that she wasn’t going to prison for the crime. I wrote down: ‘She is a nice, simple, ordinary woman who is going to be terribly practical about chopping up her husband’s body, then cooking it and eating it. In eating him she will become whole.’ Up to that point my character had spent much of her time in the kitchen. She made cakes for a living. To her it seemed like a sensible option. At the time of writing the book I was going through a divorce. I was a single parent and had become unemployed. I was very worried about money. In those circumstances a woman is very stuck. Being stuck and isolated is a frightening combination.
Lizzie Prain is an unconventional heroine; middle-aged, bored and unexceptional at first glance. How did this character come to you?
She started off successful and glamorous. I don’t exactly know how she ended up like this. The more I thought about her the more I realised how cut-off and anxious she was. I’m interested in loneliness. Many people feel lonely in their marriages. And I think many women feel a lot more middle-aged, boring and unexceptional than they do successful and glamorous. I was writing to the isolated, boring and anxious person — however small — we have in all of us.
You haven’t shied away from the gory details, with Lizzie even making up recipes for different parts of her dead husband. What was the writing process like?
Difficult. Painful. But I knew there was no way round it. I had to be bold and write straight through the story like a person eating straight through a body. ‘Chapter Two: take lower left leg out and defrost it. Shave the leg. Prepare with olive oil and salt to get a nice crisp skin. Write about that.’ At times it was unbearable. It felt like I was being eaten by the book.
Season To Taste is being touted as the latest entrant in ‘chick noir’, an emerging genre that focuses on the harsh realities of life and relationships. Do you think this is a logical progression from chick lit and teen romances?
Europe is in a state of crisis. We’ve been through a major recession. Socially we are becoming confined by the pressure to work longer hours, the tyranny of the screen and social media replacing real relationships with friends and family. Many people feel disconnected, cut off and isolated in an urban sprawl. Art will reflect our social anxieties. I haven’t read much chick lit, but if it is about a woman’s happiness being dependent on the staying power of a nice man I do think that we have long woken up to the idea that there is more to a woman’s fulfilment than the finding of a man. That said, I had no sense of a genre, emerging or otherwise, when I was writing the book. I wrote what I saw, which was a woman in the woods quietly frying her husband’s testicles in a pan and feeding some of his foot to the dog.
On a lighter note, how much of Lizzie is you? What’s been the general reaction from people who know you well?
Many people don’t know what to make of the book. Nothing like this has been done before. My friends are very proud of the book and excited by the coverage it is receiving. My ex-husband loves the book. He has a great sense of humour. He thinks it’s funny. I am sure there is some of me in Lizzie Prain. But I’m not very practical — even though I wish I was — and I have never wanted to cut off a fillet from a man and fry it for my supper.
You’ve made quite a splash with the visceral nature of Season To Taste. What’s next for you?
That’s a surprise…