Bethan Roberts - The Good Plain Cook (2 stars)

Bethan Roberts - The Good Plain Cook

(Serpent’s Tail)


In the mid-30s, the American heiress and philanthropist Peggy Guggenheim set up house in the Sussex countryside with her daughter, her poet lover, his daughter, and a young local girl to cook for them. Bethan Roberts has taken this Bohemian idyll as the inspiration for her second novel, but her selfish, vapid Ellen Steinberg is no Guggenheim, and there’s a sense of missed opportunity about the too-light story she tells here.

Ellen’s daughter Geenie steals the whole novel, her chapters written in the Technicolor intensity of pre-pubescence, as the petty unresolved tensions between the adults, which are meant to drive the plot, fade to nothingness by contrast. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this fairly good, plain book – it would make an easy enough ‘summer read’ – and Roberts evokes the period and the sun-dappled langour of the countryside convincingly, but there’s also absolutely nothing in here to challenge the reader.

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