Let’s be clear about one thing: this is not a novel. Well, what’s a novel? Maybe it is. But really, Old Food is offal, the verbose spawn of artist Ed Atkin’s exhibition of the same name, ‘written in blurts throughout’.
This book will make you hungry and nauseated. The best comparison I can make is the chocolate cake scene in Matilda. You can’t look away. It is grotesque and alluring. The setting is, perhaps, post-apocalyptic, or dystopian, or maybe it’s just poverty. Nostalgia crackles. This is the last burst of someone remembering (misremembering) everything they’ve ever eaten:
‘Pimpernel, primrose and groundsel
and slean-cut black peat sod
smouldered blue vegetal brume from
the midden, doffed aboard and hoed
to half-remembered peaks the pub.’
It’s best read aloud, perhaps – scattered with ‘um’ and ‘ha’, like someone telling their life. There are some recurring characters, notably ‘Hannah with her ha asbestos constitution.’ (To eat everything described here, she’d better have one.) You could piece together snippets of information, but not a plot. If you’re looking for a plot, this is the wrong book for you. Feast on this for its words, for the food spilling off the pages, for the unsettling juxtaposition with non-food:
‘Those days we knew how to eat a
witch: with gloves on and in one go.
Other nights we’d torch a village
just to bake an apple.’
Words: Alice Wickenden