Book Review: The Good Plain Cook

Looking to move out of her sister’s house, young Kitty Allen responded to an advert looking for “good plain cook…broad outlook essential.” Thus during the summer of 1936, Kitty worked in rural Sussex England for Ellen Steinberg, an eccentric American woman who danced around the house in her stockings, her eleven year old daughter Geenie and Mr. Crane, a poet who espoused Marxist beliefs while never actually working at anything. Kitty roomed in the unusual household, trying her best to cover up the fact that she had little experience in the kitchen while attempting to keep Geenie, a deeply unhappy yet intelligent girl from getting into too much trouble. As events of the summer unfold, Kitty is drawn to the reserved Mr. Crane who is obviously Ellen’s lover and comes to realize she is seriously out of her depth.

The carefully constructed setting provides an excellent backdrop to this finely nuanced tale of self-discoveries during a slower time when things like a bike ride or a midsummer’s night dance were events to be savored and a silk dress was a guilty treasure. Roberts’ maintains a credible undercurrent of tension between the characters while the steady pace is like a stroll through summer’s pleasures of nude sunbathing and the rich smell of green grass.

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