Gingerbread. The very word conjures up images of gingerbread men or gingerbread houses, forever linked to the magical themes of Christmas and fairy tales. Add to that characters named Harriet and Gretel and the idea forms that this novel isn't a plain one.
There is a lovely opening to this book about the types of gingerbread and how precious the family recipe is. A mother and daughter try to fit in with the people at school and attempt to win friends by gifting gingerbread regularly. It doesn't work as much as they hope in the the London school although it is popular in their home country. And this is where we start to notice things are a little odd.
It is questionable if the home country actually exists. Their London home is up seven flights of stairs and has some dubious decor and strangely animated dolls. But this isn't quite the delightful fairy tale the initial impression may indicate, with depictions of family fights, jealousy, vomiting and the enduring theme of houses.
The book is imaginative and meandering, so much so that sometimes it is hard to make sense of it. It is modern and witty but also aimless. The prose is good, the plot not so much. Gingerbread is what holds it all together: the family, as well as the novel itself. The only thing that has any value is the gingerbread, the thread from the beginning to the delicious end. This is a contemporary retelling of those gingerbread folk tales from our childhood. Worth reading.
Published by Picador Pan McMillan on 5 March 2020. Advanced review copy supplied by the publisher.
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