Catch up on shows with The Coast On Demand
Friday, July 06, 2012 1:00 PM
In honest Katie Fforde fashion, the romantic confection that is Recipe for Love kicks off with a meet-cute, on this occasion involving cooking competition contest Zoe Harper and one of the event’s three judges, Gideon Irving. Luckily, he also happens to be the dashing and enigmatic judge, though it’s not clear whether he is legitimately eligible (that’s the enigma bit).
Zoe’s accommodation partner is the novel’s antagonist, the comically venal Cher. She can sort of cook, but would rather win by more nefarious means, and makes no secret of her strategy. Zoe’s naivete in the face of Cher’s diabolical machinations is irritating, until you remember that any lasting victory on the part of the villain would be a betrayal of the genre.
Setting her 18th novel in the world of food gives Fforde a fun and flexible platform. The competition’s 10 contestants are vying for a substantial cash prize – Zoe fantasizes of using the winner’s pot to open a deli – in a televised cook-off being filmed at Somerby a comfortable English country estate. Romantic settings are Fforde’s stock-in-trade, and no matter how uncomfortable the situations her characters might find themselves in, their surroundings are never less than pleasant and attractive.
Those adjectives also fit Zoe, whose petiteness makes her appear younger than her 27 years, and whose shyness is evidently alluring to the magnetic, mysterious Gideon. Cathy and Heathcliff, you might say, minus the mental instability, spontaneous bellowing and compulsive roaming.
Things have to happen to trigger the romance, however, and the writer’s choice of fodder makes much of Recipe for Love feel like being trapped inside a fictionalized, oestrogenic episode of Masterchef. The most talented contestant is also the mousiest and easiest to overlook; Cher might be scoring points for factors other than her food; Zoe isn’t confident she’s getting through on merit rather than her chemistry with Gideon, who for about 98% of the text is about as readable as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
As is often the case with Fforde, the best fun is to be had among the supporting cast. Zoe underestimates Cher at her peril, while the parents of Rupert, the owner of Somerby and husband of Zoe’s friend Fenella, are comically snobbish when they materialize for the birth of their new grandchild and evince profound horror at everything from the baby’s gender (female, unsatisfactory – has no one heard of primogeniture?!), to the presence of fathers in the delivery room and the practice of breastfeeding.
The course of true love runs bumpy, thanks to the usual misunderstandings and failures of communication, which would be more entertaining were Gideon not such a cipher. Charming, handsome and in possession of a past that hints at roguishness, he is an ideal match for the impossibly obtuse Zoe, but a banality for any experienced reader of romance fiction.
Much like a dessert whipped up by one of the contestants, Recipe for Love is frothy, tasty in the moment and ultimately insubstantial.
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