Toast – Not Just for Breakfast Anymore…

I decided to get ‘Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger’ by the TV chef Nigel Slater for a couple of reasons – first, I seem to have this obsession with toast recently – see The Interesting Thoughts of Edward Monkton and Jasper Fforde’s creations – but also I thought perhaps it would be good to read a biography, as I’ve been rather obsessed with fiction lately. And it got good reviews on Amazon, so, hey…

I was both intrigued by the writing style and saddened by the story. Because of his culinary interest, the book is not written in a general ‘when I was 6, this happened…’ style, but is broken down into memories centred around food. It starts with a memory about toast – seemingly the most perfect food, according to Slater – but charts his relationship with food as it relates to his mother (who was a horrible cook, apparently), through the tensions in his relationship with his father, and to the competitive nature of his relationship with his stepmother. Although the memories are grouped in generally chronological order, there is no sense of a continuous narrative. To me, this meant that it always seemed fresh, and was never boring.

But neither was it always comfortable. Slater did not have a terribly happy childhood. His mother died, presumably from asthma although it is never stated directly, when he was about 10. What I found crushingly sad was that he wasn’t even allowed to go to the funeral – he wasn’t even told it was happening. He was packed off to his aunt’s house, and brought home again when it was all over. No wonder his relationship with his father was strained! And although the reader can sympathise with the way his father actively sought companionship after his wife’s death, you ache for the boy Nigel as he is pushed aside in favour of the not-so-fairy tale wicked-ish stepmother.

Toast: The Story of a Boy\'s Hunger

What I found disturbing (although I do hate to admit it – I’ve obviously led a sheltered life…) were the overt sexual references throughout the book. There were a few rather dodgy experiences with uncles or men that worked at the house – Nigel must have been a vulnerable target, as he was the youngest by far in a household with an ill parent – but also the frankness with which he describes his sexual experiences during and after completing culinary college and during his first jobs gave me pause a few times. It’s not graphic – he does have a way of being frank, but not explicit in his descriptions – but it did make me feel uncomfortable to think that people felt they had to behave like that. Like I said – sheltered life, me.

So – verdict? I enjoyed the style, as I found it refreshing not to be a diary or chronology but rather a genuine collection of memories, although – as is realistic, if you tell the truth – I did find some of the content difficult and heart-wrenching. But that’s life isn’t it? Not everyone lives a fairy tale…

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