It is thanks to routing through other peoples shelves (I’m going to do a post on the joys of other people’s shelves and having a nosey next week) that I ended up reading a book that I probably wouldn’t have read otherwise and really loved. The book in question was ‘Toast’ by Nigel Slater which had initially piqued my interest after the adaptation on the television over Christmas, which we recorded and then completely forgot to watch. I then forgot about how much I wanted to read the book (see that self hype thing again)… until I was having a nosey and my eyes happened to fall upon it and so I picked it up and absolutely loved it.
All I knew of Nigel Slater before I picked up ‘Toast’ was that he was a rather well known chef whose recipe books seem to be in every single member of my families houses. I’ve never watched his TV shows and really never been that interested in cookery books, other than maybe Nigella, though I like cooking. ‘Toast’ is Nigel Slater’s memories of childhood into adulthood all told through food. I imagined this might be recipes but I was wrong as in fact it’s snippets of memories with titles like ‘Christmas Cake, ‘The Hostess Trolley’ and ‘Peach Melba’ (which I had forgotten once existed and instantly wanted) each with its own memories attached.
‘Toast’ really is quite a collection of memories as Nigel didn’t have the easiest or happiest of childhoods. His mother had health issues, his father wasn’t the most comforting or friendly of role models and of course there is the cleaner Mrs Poole who soon became the bane of Nigel’s life. It’s never a misery memoir though some of the book is very emotional it also often leaves you in hysterics. In some ways because of the humour I was reminded of Augusten Burroughs, only in this book the addictions are cook books and ingredients rather than drugs, the other thing that reminded me of Augusten Burroughs was the way slowly but surely Slater writes about his being gay, how he noticed it and coped with it in the 60’s and 70’s which again makes for a very heart felt and honest book.
I knew I was going to be rather smitten with this book when I read the line in ‘Toast 1’ where Nigel writes ‘It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you.’ He is talking about his mother and how when they make it in just the right way you are ‘putty in their hands’. People who arrive as the book progresses are each almost given a flavour in addiction to their character and this works wonderfully. It also really evokes atmosphere and underlying tensions such as when he helps his Mum make the, at the time, novel delicacy of spaghetti for his father which none of them have tried and as soon as they add the parmesan ‘this cheese smells like sick’ is deemed as ‘off’ and its never talked of or mentioned again.
I loved Nigel Slater’s writing, it never felt pretentious or woe is me or anything other than a down to earth account of his childhood filled with both happiness and sadness. It’s a ‘real’ memoir if you know what I mean, there are dramas and trials but they are never melodramatic. I decided Nigel Slater and I would be firm friends when he discussed ‘Butterscotch Angel Delight’ my all time favourite too. This is someone who hasn’t had the easiest start in life who rather than complain about it looks back at it fondly and asks the reader to join in and do so too. This is my favourite book of the year so far. 10/10
I am hoping that any of you who are much more up on Nigel Slater and his writing than I am will please tell me there are more books he has written like this as I would really like to read more of his work. I have since reading this cooked one of his recipes and it wasn’t half bad. Which memoirs have left you feeling like you’ve just had a really honest, open, funny and sad catch up with a new found friend even though you’ve never met them?