by Sherry Thomas, historical (2008)
Bantam, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-440-24432-5
Delicious is far better exercise in character study than a romance because the story contains one too many contrived plot devices, be they a manipulative secondary character or a coincidental turn of event, and as a result feels more artificial than it should be.
Delicious is also similar in structure to Ms Thomas' debut effort Private Arrangements in that the story weaves back and forth between 1882 and 1892. Since the reader slowly discovers the history between the two main characters, therefore, I can't reveal too much about them or I will spoil the story completely. Let me just describe the main characters of the story and, briefly, their relationship with each other.
Bertram "Bertie" Somerset dies of a heart attack shortly after the story begins and his death will catalyze plenty of soul searching and dramatic figurative chest pounding in our hero, Bertie's illegitimate half-brother Stuart who goes on to inherit Bertie's things, and heroine, Verity Durant who was Bertie's cook as well as former mistress. Verity and Durant met for a very brief time in 1882, and it was a meeting that supposedly changed their lives, rocked their world, et cetera, in a manner comparable to, I suppose, the way twelve-year old girls see the Jonas Brothers for the first time on MTV and enter puberty spontaneously. Or something. Neither characters were virgins when they met, but it was like, oh my god, there were stars in their eyes. That kind of thing. Well, it must have been grand, because that brief meeting is the only thing I have to go with in this story as the reason why these two are so in love with each other.
When these two meet again in 1892, Stuart doesn't recognize Verity because her appearance has changed and she takes pains to avoid him. Verity is a very good cook, so much so that her food can make people feel things, usually sensual and randy feelings. Therefore, Stuart ends up having a thing going for Verity due to her culinary skills, although at that time he is of course not aware of who the cook is. Alas, he already has plans to make a respectable marriage to Elizabeth Bessler. Meanwhile, Lizzy Bessler has her own secrets as well as a reluctant attraction to Stuart's personal assistant William Marsden.
The more conventional romance can be found in Lizzy and William's subplot. I like those two characters, by the way, and I really wish Ms Thomas hasn't copped out when it comes to William by the end. Both characters turn out to be memorable and unusual. They have a most entertaining relationship that has just the perfect balance of antagonism and sexual tension. However, there are some events late in the story that make me roll up my eyes because Lizzy's feelings for William are tested in a heavy-handed manner best left for morality tales. I also have the same issue with the relationship between Verity and Stuart, come to think of it. All that "the woman must be tested to determine whether her love is true" drama is pretty silly.
I have a hard time believing in this supposed grand love that Verity and Stuart have for each other. They spend a lot of time in this book behaving in a very introspective manner. As a result, love comes off like a very selfish emotion on their part. It is rarely about what they feel about the other person as much as it is about how the other person makes them feel, if I am making sense here. For example, Stuart has a bittersweet love-hate relationship with Bertie, one that is very effectively portrayed by Ms Thomas, and so does Verity who realizes that she does have some leftover affection for Bertie despite all that anger she harbors over his refusal to love her in the same way she believed that she loved him. Their "love" for each other in this story is more like a need to cling to each other so that they can both help each other fill all those cold and empty holes in their hearts caused by their mutual complicated emotions over Bertie's death. Kinda like therapy in the name of love, in other words.
Stuart and Verity are very intriguing characters though. Verity is a flawed person, often behaving like a spoiled brat pouting petulantly when men don't love her the way she feels that she deserves to be loved, but she has plenty of complicated layers in her personality that I find most fascinating. Likewise, Stuart is a complex character with plenty of interesting facets to his personality. These two characters are not easily pigeonholed into convenient labels as a result, and I have a good time discovering more about them as the story progresses. It's just that these two characters are so introspective and self-absorbed that their love doesn't ring real.
Delicious is an enjoyable story to read, but more as a fascinating character study than a romance. I suspect that this one won't work too well if you are looking for a more traditional boy-meets-girl story, but if you're in the mood for something different and don't mind the fact that the plot can become too contrived for its own good, this one could very well live up to its title.
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