I'm very late reaching the finishing tape with Nourishment. A book published so long ago it must be almost due in paperback any day now, and has had everything written about it than can possibly be thought of, but this was one of those posts that had disappeared down the list behind the scenes last year.
At thois point I have to be very honest and say that when a book arrives and the blurb is as follows
'...when Tory Pace's prisoner-of-war husband, Donald, makes an outrageous demand for sexual gratification. He wants a dirty letter by return of post!....she begins a quest to master the language of carnal desire'
well, I heave a bit of a sigh.
But the proof copy of Nourishment by Gerard Woodward arrived, with its look of the facsimile ration book about it and some clever little details added in and I was suddenly really desperate to buy into the whole nostalgic look of the thing. This appealing livery surely an instance when the proof far excelled the look of the real thing to my eye and when you compare the two I think it's clear this book was aiming for a particular audience and perhaps not us nostalging types.
Sometimes a book comes with the most perfect title, one that allows for multiple interpretations of the story, and Nourishment, just that single word, had the potential to assume many guises and so I waded in.
The theme of rationing both relevant to the wartime setting and likely to induce waves of nostalgia but also an ironic twist on Donald's sex-starved predicament in StalagLuft which ever. Ultimately the sensational element of the letters, though central to the plot, proved not to be the 'be all and end all' of a novel which, to my surprise, I did enjoy.
Tory Pace lives with her mother Mrs Head in war-torn London, working in Farraway's Gelatin Factory and scraping an existence whilst her mother shops and cooks. With the children safely evacuated to the Cotswolds and husband Donald missing presumed dead, life settles into a predictable round of unsavoury work and much queuing for food. More irony with much rendering down of cows going on but precious little of them to eat, so when Mrs Head snaffles a juicy looking joint from the bombed-out butcher's shop there is much rejoicing in the kitchen that evening as the succulent-looking limb is carved... except... no I can't say but ...well the butcher himself is missing and it's black-humourously funny. And this all sets the tenor of much of this book which is frequently oddly funny, black humour abounding, whilst also being deadly serious, and while food may be scarce in wartime there is no rationing of fears and desires.
So Donald rises from the supposed dead as a POW and requests the letters which in the end Tory takes very seriously and obliges with, doing her research slightly above and beyond the call of duty, and not without its consequences so there is a rising sense of dread and anticipation when Donald finally returns home unannounced, damaged and deranged by his incarceration.
The impact of war and its aftermath is crafted from new and unusual angles by Gerard Woodward. Tory's grief at the absence of her evacuated children balanced with an honesty about the pleasures of solitude; her altered position within the family, now the wartime worker and the wage-earner but, in the presence of her mother, condemned to remain a child, still not allowed to be the head of the family... just a few of the more unusual takes on a seemingly familiar theme that populate this novel.
Meanwhile the post-war period as families try to reconstruct themselves in this new image is fascinatingly laid out by Gerard Woodward, the nourishment required to sustain this life is cleverly woven into the lives of Family Pace; from the ointment that Tory massages into Donald's burned and dehydrated scalp (don't ask how he did that but I did mention he was deranged) to the food reduced to its basic components in vitamin tablet form being promoted by Farraway's.... from Tory's new job cleaning the public toilets, to the book that Donald decides to write. Gerard Woodward ranges far and wide across the post-war spectrum and cleverly drew me into a novel which months later I can remember in the clearest detail.
So in the end I did enjoy Nourishment tremendously and having missed I'll Go to Bed at Noon when it did the rounds of the Booker a few years ago, I am impressed enough with this one to give more of Gerard Woodward's novels a try.