Roberta works for a fashion website company. First, she wrote product descriptions. Now that the job is outsourced, she folds scarves and whatever else, generally making sure it looks like she’s busy. She’s not that good at friends. She is good at cooking, as she first discovered when she left home for a flat at university and food became a way to fill the emptiness she felt. But now, in her late twenties, she meets Stevie, a new intern at her website, and finally something just clicks.
Between them, the notion of Supper Club is born. At first it’s just a group of women meeting at an empty restaurant late at night. Roberta cooks. They eat exorbitantly, they drink, they bare their breasts. Then it becomes more – it becomes sneaking into the places they’re not supposed to be. Like university buildings after dark. Like department stores. The women find themselves crossing social boundaries – both external and internal – in ways that are too much for some of them to cope with. Meanwhile, their ordinary lives, jobs, and relationships patter on, consistently confronting them with the same question in many different guises – are they fulfilled?
Supper Club is about female desire – be it hunger for food, sexual or emotional fulfillment. it’s about inhabiting spaces these young women have been told they can’t. A want to embrace the forbidden is what leads Roberta, Stevie and others to commit to dumpster diving for their ingredients, a social crime. Before Roberta and Stevie invite women into the club, they ask them what they are scared of. The club becomes a place to overcome fear.
The book begins with a quote by the poet/feminist/70s megastar Anne Sexton:
Eat me. Eat me up like cream pudding.
Take me in.
Food is an obvious theme in Supper Club, and Roberta takes us minutely through the preparation of lavish dishes, but the book suggests it takes more than food – or its close associate, sex – to fill one up. The club is extremist, but it is also a metaphor, an outlet for the frustrations Roberta’s feeling. We engage with Roberta’s life and her everyday problems. Roberta navigates a variety of relationships, hot and cold, friendly and sexual, male and female, balancing her shyness and awkwardness, her need to say sorry, with her experimentation and her incurable hunger.
I remember asking to review this book because I read somewhere that it was a feminist novel. Right! I thought. Sign me up. When it arrived and I read the blurb, I baulked. A group of women meeting to gorge themselves until they are sick?! As someone acutely sensitive to issues like food wastage and first world greed, I carried the book around with trepidation. When I read it, I was fully prepared to hate it. But I didn’t. I appreciated it as a novel about female experience with a humanist approach, a narrative of both the famine and feast of modern Western life. Williams told her story without telling us what to think about it. The characters don’t evaluate the meaning of their actions. Like real people, they just act. Supper Club is elegantly written, and consistently engaging.
Taste and see for yourself.
Reviewer: Susannah Whaley
Hamish Hamilton, $35.00