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Review: The Cook

The CookThe Cook by Wayne Macauley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So Wayne Macauley, a satirist worth his salt, has been round for a while. Good ole’ Black Pepper Press took a punt on his skewered cheese-dreams of Australian aspiration. Not just suburban oiks, the obvious target, but those artistes applying for the wafer-thin dinner mints of grant funding and greater glory. Check out his early books.

But not before you read this one. My, this is a good book. If Jude the Obscure was obsessed by making it to Masterchef instead of Christminister you might get an inkling of the flavor.

Zach the delinquent trained on a TV-chef’s farm with a group of other fuck-ups takes like a zealot to the filet-knife, the butchering, the prep. But like Jude he understands nothing; his vision of where he will go is so myopic, so focussed, he misses the perilousness of his day-to-day life. He is used. He is in the hands of others.

He’s also entirely, suffocatingly creepy. Macauley gives us just enough of Zach in reflective mode to grasp that he feels very little. Shame is his engine. He freaks people out with this.

My only quibble with the book was the deliberate lack of punctuation. It felt like an ruse to elict better concentration from the reader. I read closely, but punctuation helps to slow me down, find repose. It seemed unnecessary.

Things do not end well. But the larger picture is as frightening as the denouement. In the world of food – working class butchers, obsequious deli owners, farmers, even celebrity chefs – things are broken. The dream of money and fame, the aspirational velocity that Australians have been repeatedly told is what we all should have – it’s in tatters.

And therein lies the true wonder of this novel. The dread. The dystopia. The Global Financial Crisis hangs over it as palpably as the fear of nuclear Armageddon hung over Gen X dinosaurs like myself in the early eighties. Remember, Ronald Reagan was going to start bombing in five minutes.

All that Masterchef glitz turns out to be bread and circuses. And I’m talking supermarket sawdust snags and fairy loaf.

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