It’s summer 1936, and the world is on the cusp of change, but there’s little sign of this in rural Sussex. So when local girl Kitty Allen answers an advert looking for ‘a good plain cook’, she has no idea what she’s in for. For starters, her employer is an American called Ellen Steinberg who believes in calling the staff by their first names and sunbathing in the nude. Then there’s Ellen’s eleven-year-old daughter, Geenie, a bright, unhappy little thing, and Mrs Steinberg’s gentleman friend, Mr Crane, who’s said to be a poet – even though he doesn’t have a beard and doesn’t seem to write much poetry either.
Rich bohemians imagining themselves as communists, Steinberg and Crane see themselves as champions of ‘the people’ – not that they know the first thing about how the people actually live. Kitty is in no place to criticise – after all she claimed to be a good plain cook, despite hardly knowing how to boil an egg. Utterly out of her depth, she is relieved to have the gardener, Arthur, to talk to. Otherwise she’d never last a summer in this madhouse.
Ellen Steinberg wants life to run as smoothly as the love story she imagines her lover George Crane to be writing. But as Kitty arrives, the dream is on the edge of falling apart.
Delicious…Gorgeously written, full of teasing observations and love, class and cookery.
A subtly witty study of class tensions and general human folly.
A beautifully observed portrait.
Roberts looks set to be one of the must-read novelists of this summer.
Excellent…Has plenty to say about sex and class and says it with subtle wit and concision.