Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke

review by Maryom

A teenage girl waits with her family for her father's return from a business trip. He's expected to have sealed a promotion so a celebration is in order - a feast of mussels. But as she sits and waits with her mother and brother, the 'hero' of the feast doesn't appear. Whether he's just delayed or had an accident, to not inform them is completely out of character for him. The mussels are cooked and waiting, and as they cool the family drink wine and talk in a way that wouldn't be possible if their overbearing father were there and start to question the dominance they've allowed him to have.

The Mussel Feast is the first of this year's 'Turning Point' series from Peirene - and what a way to start! In detail, it's about a family bending itself to the slightest whim of a repressive parent; in wider context it could apply to any situation in which one person or idea is allowed to gain dominance over others.

The Mussel Feast captures a quiet revolution for this family. There's no shouting, no passionate outpouring of feelings but just three people sitting round a dinner table chatting quietly and starting to share the thoughts they've kept to themselves for years.

Despite his non-appearance the father is very much the main character - life has revolved around him and his attitudes about how a 'proper family' should behave for so long that without him the family don't quite know what to do. Starting at first with his wife, everyone has bent to do his bidding, to behave as he wishes, repressing their real opinions or hopes in favour of his.

At times I found myself wondering about the writing style - it seemed to circle round on itself -  but it still cleverly built up a picture of the life of this family.

A great start to this new series from Peirene and I can't wait for the rest.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Fiction, translated fiction

Buy The Mussel Feast from Amazon

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