The Good Plain Cook by Bethan Roberts

Bethan Roberts is a relatively new author who was born in Oxford, England. She grew up in nearby Abingdon and bethanwas educated at Jesus College, Oxford University and now lives in Brighton. Her first novel The Pools was published in 2007 and won a Jerwood/Arvon Young Writers’ Award. This, her second novel, The Good Plain Cook, published in 2008, was serialized on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime. It was also chosen as a book of the year by Time Out. The Good Plain Cook is a quietly subversive, sensual novel about coming of age and not knowing your place.

The story begins when a girl answers an advertisement looking for a “good plain cook,” she has no idea what she’s getting herself into. The year is 1926 in Sussex, England. Kitty Allen was reading the newspaper when she spotted a wanted ad. The ad just said “Wanted – Good plain cook to perform domestic duties for artistic household. Room and board included. Broad outlook essential.” As the temperature rises through the long, hot summer, her dream begins to fall apart.

The Good Plain Cook is beautifully written, gently funny, and genuinely touching story that is loosely based on a summer in the life of Peggy Guggenheim.

plain cookKitty had been pondering whether to respond to the ad for several days. She decides to respond but was not sure what to expect. It is soon clear that Ellen Steinberg and her daughter, Geenie were not even in her imagination. Geenie runs around doing what she wants. There were a few times when Geenie could have used some discipline but that was not going to happen. Ellen is completely eccentric. One of her favorite past times is to sun bathe in the nude. Ellen’s lover, George Crane is a poet. He loves Ellen but he gets embarrassed easily by Ellen and her antics. Mrs. Steinberg was so care free and eccentric and does not care what anyone thinks of her: even if she made a fool of herself.

Kitty was a nicely drawn character. She was an English rose who made a great foil to the family’s craziness. Unsurprisingly,she does become somewhat over shadowed by Ellen.

Bethan Roberts was a new author to me. I enjoyed this book and believe that The Good Plain Cook by Bethan Roberts is definitely worth reading.

Valerie Penny




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