The Yellow Kitchen by Margaux Vialleron
The yellow kitchen in this novel is the most real setting throughout, despite the realities of London outside which also feature, and a never to be forgotten trip to Lisbon changes everything. This is a novel of three women, Claude, Sophie and Giulia, their interconnected relationship, and memories of mothers. In Claude’s hands it becomes a book of food, her chosen medium of expression, for when there is nothing that can be said in words. Blending, tasting and even recipe substitutions becomes her language, more so than the French she rarely uses, her literal mother tongue loaded with feelings about a life she has glimpsed and perhaps dominates the dreams she can express. Sophie, daughter of a celebrity mother, action driven when not actually asleep, creates magic with her makeup ideas, sculpting and changing a face. Giulia, for all purposes Italian, lives in the politics of the moment despite her non-specific jobs, running to clear her mind, recipient of the parcels from home which anchor her in her relationship with two women back there. This is the love story of three women. Love in all its companionship and challenges, its growth, development and change.
The yellow kitchen is in a flat that Claude at first rents, with all the inconveniences of someone else’s use of space, but as it becomes more Claude’s own in spirit and fact, it changes despite being the hub of the three women’s relationship. In it Claude cooks, creates as the other two help by chopping, learning what the kitchen appliances are called, how they fulfil a role in preparing what becomes a joint enterprise, though always led by Claude. Claude is the one who spends all day serving other people’s food, but quietly develops her own distinctive pastries. She has her routines, her obsessions, of cycling, of wearing yellow, of almost standing outside her own experiences. Sophie is a driven woman, for a wedding, for her ambitions, for her desire to grasp each moment. Giulia filters things, is strong, responsive to the moods of others, but always a little on one side, not having the shared experience of a boarding school like the other two. As they and the world outside proceeds through the year 2019 “the last year of London as we knew it”, discoveries are made, decisions are made, and Claude is challenged with events in her life that haunt her memories. When something happens during a trip to Lisbon all three women are thrown, and everything is challenged.
This is a book in which women are the main actors, and men are incidental to their lives. I found it entertaining and a compulsive read. Claude is the character who speaks in her own voice at certain points, full of the joys of preparing food for her friends, drawing them into her kitchen, her life. She is the anchor of the relationship, and I found her character to be the most complex. Sophie feels younger, more easily distracted in my reading of the novel. Giulia is the one that feels on the edge, yet also seems to be the one who encourages the relationship, and is there in times of crisis. This is a book to enjoy, which succeeded in increasing my appetite with its descriptions of food and its creation. This is a fascinating read, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.