#BookReview: THE LANGUAGE OF FOOD by Annabel Abbs @annabelabbs @simonschusterUK @TeamBATC

Publication: 3rd February 2022 – Simon & Schuster UK

England 1835. Eliza Acton is a poet who dreams of seeing her words in print. But when she takes her new manuscript to a publisher, she’s told that ‘poetry is not the business of a lady’. Instead, they want her to write a cookery book. That’s what readers really want from women. England is awash with exciting new ingredients, from spices to exotic fruits. But no one knows how to use them
Eliza leaves the offices appalled. But when her father is forced to flee the country for bankruptcy, she has no choice but to consider the proposal. Never having cooked before, she is determined to learn and to discover, if she can, the poetry in recipe writing. To assist her, she hires seventeen-year-old Ann Kirby, the impoverished daughter of a war-crippled father and a mother with dementia. 
Over the course of ten years, Eliza and Ann developed an unusual friendship – one that crossed social classes and divides – and, together, they broke the mould of traditional cookbooks and changed the course of cookery writing forever. 



The Language of Food is such a beautiful and captivating story. I read it in two days, completely engrossed in the real-life characters, the evocative descriptions of food, and the emotional and engaging story.

The two protagonists are Eliza Acton and Ann Kirby. Many people may not know her name (me included before reading the novel), but Eliza Acton published the first cookery book for the domestic reader, the first cookery book that listed ingredients in each recipe. The Language of Food is the well-researched and well-written fictional story based on her life and the life of her scullery maid Ann Kirby.

The story begins in 1837. Eliza Acton wants to be a published poet and travels to London to submit her work to a renowned publisher who quickly makes it clear that poetry is not the job for a woman. If she really wants to be published she can write a cookery book. Initially Eliza is reluctant to the idea, but when her economic position changes and she also discovers how badly cookery books are written, she decides to write her own book of recipes. She is helped by her newly-hired scullery maid, Ann Kirby. Ann has always been interested in cooking, she dreams of becoming a cook and, because she can write and read, she becomes valuable to Eliza in putting together the recipes.

Eliza and Ann are two unique characters. In a time when women were expected to stay within the domestic walls and follow their husband or parents’ bidding, these two women fight for more. They want independence and to follow their dreams and, despite their different upbringing and social status, they form a close and deep friendship.

The story is told from the perspective of both women and I loved how each chapter is named after a dish and, at the end, there are also a few recipes. I don’t read many historical novels, but The Language of Food – and its incredible protagonists – kept me enraptured for a few hours and I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended!!!

A huge thank you to SJV and Simon & Schuster UK for providing me with a beautiful proof of this fantastic novel.

Annabel Abbs is the award-winning author of The Joyce Girl, a fictionalised story of Lucia Joyce, daughter of James, and her relationship with Samuel Beckett. It won the Impress Prize for New Writers and the Spotlight Novel Award, and was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award, the Caledonia Novel Award and the Waverton Good Read Award. The Joyce Girl was a Reader Pick in The Guardian 2016 and was one of ten books selected for presentation at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival, where it was given Five Stars by the Hollywood Reporter. It is currently being adapted for stage and screen.

Her second novel, Frieda, is a fictionalised story of Frieda Weekely, the German aristocrat who eloped with DH Lawrence and who was the inspiration for Lady Chatterley. It was a 2018 Times Book of the Year. Her 2019 non-fiction book, The Age-Well Project, explores the latest science of longevity and has been serialised in the Guardian and The Daily Mail.

Her journalism has appeared in The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Irish Times, Tatler, The Author, Sydney Morning Herald, The Weekend Australian Review, Psychologies and Elle Magazine.

She earned a BA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia, where she now sponsors a post-graduate scholarship in creative writing, and an MA from Kingston. She was born in Bristol, and now lives in London and East Sussex. Follow her on Twitter at @annabelabbs, or visit her website, www.annabelabbs.com.

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