I know who Grace Dent is. I occasionally read her restaurant reviews in The Guardian and in other publications over the years and she generally makes me laugh. I know her as a talking head on nostalgia programmes reminiscing about a biscuit or forgotten gem of Children’s TV. I don’t know much more than that about her but my interest was certainly piqued by the arrival of this work. Subtitled “A memoir of wanting more”, when I finished it I was the one who was certainly wanting more.
Grace won me over from the Epigraph which conveys the wisdom of Coronation Street’s Ena Sharples circa 1965; “When I was a little lass, the world was half a dozen streets, an’ a bit of waste land, an’ the rest was all talk.” Grace’s all talk is an upbringing in Carlisle and the importance food played in her working class Cumbrian home runs throughout as she develops a palate from the tinned Fray Bentos pie to unimaginably posh food at top London restaurants. As Grace moves into a world of journalism, London magazines, working with Piers Morgan (life’s not always a bowl of cherries, I suppose) she remains the girl who swung around lampposts waiting to be called in for her tea.
Her relationship with family is beautifully conveyed, especially her parents and particularly her Dad as he begins to slip away from them with dementia which as the book moves towards the present day has a potent pull on Grace’s priorities.
It is full of superb observations on life and the recalling of the 80’s and 90’s is palpable. I relished her reflections, such as the most significant person in eighties Cumbria being the woman who worked in the big Asda in Carlisle with the price reduction gun. I like a memoir where the writer carries you along establishing points of common contact and yet telling their own story and I think Grace Dent does this brilliantly here.
I haven’t enjoyed a food-based memoir as much since Nigel Slater’s “Toast” (2003) and like that book it is the people fuelled by the food who really are memorable.
Hungry was published by Mudlark on 29th October 2020. Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the review copy.