A Ravenous Woman? Perish the Thought!

PIGLET, by Lottie Hazell

Pity the bookseller who’s got to figure out where to shelve Lottie Hazell’s debut novel, “Piglet.” Its plot — woman learns devastating truth about her fiancé and starts binge-eating as she decides whether to marry him — carries the whiff of a rom-com, the faint pink tinge of “women’s fiction,” the kind of book that gets dismissed as frivolous and small, even though it deals with the topics that loom largest in real life. So is “Piglet” a frothy, fun, forgettable confection, or is it heftier, meatier, the kind of “serious” book that might win prizes, or even male readers?

If I owned a bookstore, I’d hand-sell “Piglet” to everyone. And I’d make a case for shelving it with the horror stories, especially for the scene that unfolds when Piglet’s mom, dad, sister and, eventually, her sister’s boyfriend are enlisted to cram her into her wedding dress, the one wedding expense her working-class father has covered. “‘What’s happened here, Pig?’ her father said, lifting his head in the mirror, not meeting her eyes.” Hazell goes on:

There’s a lot Hazell doesn’t tell us about Piglet. We don’t know her age or her size, her eye color or hair color, or how long she’s been a cookbook editor. We don’t learn her real name until the book’s final pages, and we aren’t told the precise nature of her fiancé’s betrayal at all, which gives the book the feel of an allegory or a fable: Once upon a time, there lived an orphan. A princess. A bride. Or, as Piglet describes herself, “a tall woman with broad shoulders wearing a dress that was designed to make her look smaller than she was.”

Hazell’s prose is as tart and icy as lemon sorbet; her sentences are whipcord taut, drum tight. The only time she indulges in description is when Piglet’s cooking or eating. Then, the writing becomes lush and lavish, with mouthwatering descriptions of “new potatoes, boiled and dotted with a bright salsa verde. Bread and two types of butter: confit garlic and Parmesan and black pepper.” There are also “katoris filled with daal, as thick and silky as rice pudding but yellowed with turmeric, finished with cream” and “prawns, pink and black and glistening, scattered with coriander, sitting spikily in their dish.”

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