BOOK REVIEW: Maggie’s Kitchen by Caroline Beecham
Allen & Unwin
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
Caroline Beecham has lovingly crafted a book which successfully evokes the sadness and uncertainty of World War II London, in the middle of the German Blitz.
Food is short and rationed, and the government instigates the “British Restaurant” scheme to ensure workers get fed. Young Maggie Johnson successfully applies to launch her own British Restaurant, and we follow her battles with red tape and officiousness, and her struggles to come to grips with her own losses, and lack of readiness to move on in her personal life.
Beecham has crafted her characters well, and we can’t help but empathise with Maggie’s struggles, whilst admiring her pluck and wanting to encourage her through her self-doubts.
Maggie’s Kitchen has all the trimmings for a wonderfully heartfelt story, but there are a couple of hiccoughs along the way.
In trying to tell a story which spans many months, Beecham presents the action in snippets, often spaced weeks apart, and the development of personal relationships suffers as a result. Some relationships freeze for weeks at a time, whilst others change dramatically with a scant line or two informing us of how or why.
Even accounting for the difference in manners and propriety of the times, holes appear in the characters’ actions, leaving more questions unanswered than resolved.
If only the personal lives of the characters were as well formed as the backdrop to this story, Beecham would have an unmitigated classic on her hands. Instead, we close the final cover feeling that despite the charm she does manage to convey, that in her excitement to tell this could-have-been-epic story, she has rushed through the details at our – and Maggie’s – expense.
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