Deborah McKinlay’s new book That Part was True indulges the senses and has characters whose sensibility is unusual and applaudable. If it hadn’t already been taken, I would recommend the title ‘Sense and Sensibility’.
In That Part was True we follow Eve Potterworth, a rather defeated mother and divorcee: in a cottage in Surrey in the middle of life and middling through a typically English repressed mental crisis. In possibly the sweetest and unassuming fan letter in history, Eve writes to American pulp writer Jackson Cooper to compliment him on a cooking scene. Their bond grows over the course of comforting letters full of accounts of memories surrounding food (and the epistolary element of the novel provides a satisfying spine throughout). They exchange recipes and delicately comfort each other about the confusion they hint at in their letters.
Eve and Jackson’s distantly intertwined narratives are developed with sensitivity and perfectly observed dialogue. Jackson’s jobbing actor drinking buddy and infuriatingly poised girlfriend contrast perfectly with Eve’s highly-strung daughter and the looming prospect of her wedding. The voices are fresh and both Eve and Jackson are tackling age, loneliness and the torment of trying to decide what to do next.
The major theme, one that McKinlay clearly relishes, is food. The reader is treated to comforting descriptions of jams, pies and cake in Eve’s kitchen along with Jackson’s appetite for brash American steaks. Jackson’s girlfriend brings the villain out in all of us when she chats about the menu for half an hour only to order a mineral water and green salad.
The tag line to the That Part was True is ‘What if you fell in love with someone you’d never met?’ and it is certainly pitched to be part of the rom-com genre. I won’t give away the ending (it isn’t a literary equivalent of Catfish as I had initially feared), but their letters don’t set the world alight with passion. It is affirmation, nourishment and security that both characters crave and recognise in each other. That Part Was True is a lightweight and joyful read that demonstrates the author’s talent for dialogue, domestic observations and knows how to nourish her readers, and that’s not just with the recipes in the back.