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FMN Book Club

Have you all finished Sweet Bitter? Hope so, because it’s time to review and move onto to the next book. And I’m really excited for this one….

But first things first, let’s talk Sweet Bitter by Stephanie Danler. I could sense from the comments on instagram and from chatting to people about this book, it had a really mixed reception which I actually love. It’s so much more interesting when some people love a book and some people hate it I think as it actually provides lots to talk about if you ask me.

I had a funny reaction to Sweet Bitter which is why I was super keen to hear what you guys think. Firstly, I couldn’t put it down… I was totally and utterly hooked and absorbed in Tess’s new and intoxicating life in the restless and relentless New York restaurant scene. At times, the writing and dialogue particularly irritated me as it just felt quite melodramatic and self-consciously ‘cool’ but when I actually got into it, I realised that in a way, that was perfectly reflective of a 22 year-old’s narcissism and the rollercoaster of feelings that go hand-in-hand with a new city, new job, new life. I thought the writing also really reflected the spirit of life behind the scenes in the restaurant too; I especially loved the poetic snippets of conversation that floated up from the busy restaurant floors that pieced together to form conversations and stories.  The whole book made me feel hungry, dirty and hungover in equal measure. I wanted to drink wine, eat figs and truffle, take a shower, down a gallon of water and go to bed all at the same time. The destructive hedonism of the whole book was gripping but also kind of claustrophobic for an introvert like me who desperately needs time solo to feel normal. But for anyone who’s had at least one nightmarishly drunken night or cringed at the memory of your younger self, albeit on a much lesser scale to Tess’s undoing, you can feel the reality of Tess’s physical and emotional woes like they’re your own at times.

While I didn’t always like Tess, far from it at times, I did feel a great sense of compassion for her and could totally relate to some of her sensibilities and actions when it came to being enthralled by the dark and damaged Jake. Self-conscious moments of faux-maturity like when she went to have oysters by herself and felt like a chic, modern woman while at it, but really only did it so she could feel like the kind of woman who deserved Jake and could tell him about it later was something I could totally relate to in my early twenties. I liked that the book ended on the fall of Tess with only the promise of the rise of Tess, rather than taking the cliched route of ending at a point of redemption, perfection and happiness. It really was the lowest of the low that Tess, who went from naivety to full-on ingratiated, ended up as one of ‘Howard’s girls’ just like the girl she’d pitied at the start of her time in the restaurant. In that instant, I saw a few similarities with The Handmaid’s Tale in a way, with sex seen as a grown-up transaction but ultimately, the woman is punished as the goal posts are moved and Tess is essentially forced to resign after her ‘indiscretion’. I felt more compassionate than ever towards Tess at this point as she seemed almost younger at the end of the novel than at the start, and more angry than ever towards the misochinystic men of the novel. There was quite an anti-feminist moments to the book that felt like they’d slot right into #EverydaySexism. Like when Tess wins an award that Jake tells her is basically awarded to the girl who’s hooked up with the most guys at the restaurant. As so many of us would be, Tess feels ashamed but also gets angry and forces Jake to apologise but this dynamic of men and women in the restaurant was kind of a running theme throughout the whole book.

The real love-story of the book for me wasn’t Jake and Tess, but Simone and Tess. Tess’s infatuation with older, seemingly glamourous Simone is relatable for anyone who’d ever had a girl crush, but from the outside, the cracks in Simone become quickly apparent and there’s a bit of a tragic aura around this, dare I say it, pretentious woman who revels in imparting wisdom to Tess and stringing along Jake since he was an impressionable pre-teen. In one sense, Tess is even more eager to please Simone than Jake which was a refreshing dynamic, but one that is quickly becoming a whole new well-trodden trope for female-led literature.

I think all of us readers would see her exiting the restaurant as the dawn of the newer, brighter future for Tess and the end of the intense year-long stint of lessons, foodie and otherwise. While reading the book, I felt like the characters could be a little vapid and the book slightly glorified the drunken, drug-fuelled coming-of-age-in-Brooklyn story, we’ve all witnessed many times before, but after I finished it the characters really stuck with me and certain scenes of the book were ingrained in my mind. It kind of surprised me in the way it got under my skin in a way other books haven’t, and that definitely deserves an accolade I think.

Let me know what you thought of the book. I loved reading all your insights on The Handmaid’s Tale and while a totally different kind of read, I feel like this book allows for just as much meaty discussion and debate. So let those creative juices flow and unleash that inner book worm in the comments… Also, feel free to disagree with everything I’ve said or reply directly to other commenters. Discussion is always welcome!

Now, for the next book for this month…. This month we’ll be reading Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff. I haven’t finished it yet so I’ll be reading in tandem with you guys. I’m really excited about this book and have heard great things (read the New York Times reviews and Guardian reviews to get a feel for it – just watch out for spoilers). It was a real cult book in 2015 but one I never got round to reading so I’m exciting to finally getting stuck into the lives of married couple Mathilde and Lotto.

Thanks as always if you’re keeping up with the FMN Book Club. Love seeing all your posts about joining in and the books your reading so please keep tagging me on instagram and instagram stories (@lucywilliams02).

See you next month worms!

 

Ph by. Frances Davison

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Comments

  • Sarah Shenston

    Hey Lucy. Thank you for you’re review on the book and its actually opened my eyes up to a lot of things that i did not think about due to the face i didn’t entirely enjoy this book. I struggled with a lot but mainly with Tess as a character. I feel like, even by the end of the book, i never really knew her! The language was poetic in places but i found it tricky to follow in times and the conversations between characters irritated me by the tri-hard attitude of the staff. That wasn’t to say it wasn’t all bad. I love New York so it gave a really good nostalgic view of the city. Secondly i love food and wine and really enjoyed the journey i took exploring this throughout the book. However, i feel the author made us love the food and drink aspect more than the characters and for me personally i would have liked it the other way round. So much more to say but i think you get the gist.

    Super excited about your next book though and have just ordered it!

    xx

    ps. loving this book club

    • Thanks so much for commenting – love hearing everyone’s different opinions.

      Super interesting to hear your thoughts and I know what you mean about the food taking centre stage at times…. As far as us not knowing Tess, maybe that’s because she herself doesn’t really know Tess. She’s kind of in a constant state of flux so it’s hard to pin her down as a character I agree but in a way, I think that could be the point as the author acknowledges Tess is by no means fully-formed as yet?

      xxx

  • Pauline Gareau (paulydays)

    I want to read it now…
    xxx.

    paulydays.blogspot.com

  • Kitty

    I’ve read it. Wasn’t sure about the first part, but then LOVED part 2!

    • Ooh great because I’ve just finished the first part and loved it so excited if I’m going to like part 2 even more. Xx

  • Loved this Lucy. I’ve been DESPERATE for book recommendations as i’ve read all my favourite authors novels and haven’t had the courage just to start a random new one. This is ideal – will be reading this months book. Look forward to it

    Mel x

    mediamarmalade.com

  • dk

    Happy to be joining in this month with the book. I read somewhere that “Fates and Furies” was Barack Obama’s favorite book of 2015. If it good enough for him, must be good enough for me as well :)

    • It was indeed! Thanks so much for reminding me – good memory xx

  • Thanks for your review on the book and now I want to read it. :)

    http://www.thequirkyminimal.com

  • Caroline Jean

    Hi Lucy! Love your long sweater!! Can you link it?

  • Sian Hunter

    i enjoyed sweetbitter, all of the descriptions of food were amazing and made me realise i need to cook more and experiment with flavours! all of the nights out and drug taking really began to grate on me after a while though, as someone who prefers a night in and likes to look after my body i was simultaneously bored by and felt pity for everyone. please, drink some water and get an early night for once! i really liked the relationship between tess and simone, it was so much more interesting than tess and jake. looking forward to starting fates and furies!

    • Ha I totally know what you mean about the going out thing… I could never be like that now. One night out and I need the next week on the sofa. But then I remember back to being 18 and slightly infatuated with a guy and I would have gone out every day for a month at that stage so I totally got it.

      And yes Tess and Simone was almost more intense than Tess and Jake for sure. I think shows such as Girls has proved friendships are often way more complex and emotional than any romantic relationship.

      Thanks so much taking the time to comment too xx

  • Ciara

    I read this at the end of last year so a little hazy on details but completely agree with you on the getting under the skin, I still think of it. I thought that Tess was an honest depiction of someone finding themselves in a frenetic and seductive environment. I appreciated the casual approach Danler took too drinking/drug-use/sex that is common in the restaurant and plenty of other industries. Even when I found Tess’s actions frustrating or pretentious, I could understand why. I agree that the style of the writing was irritating, but at the same time I also felt that it leant to the dreamlike and intense world that Tess was freshly experiencing. I enjoyed the food and wine aspect of it, I would love to have their knowledge. It was definitely not perfect, and I can totally see why many people have hated it, but I couldn’t put it down and have passed onto friends as an easy and intoxicating read.
    I’ve had Fates and Furies on my list for a while so have ordered a copy and look forward to reading it and next month. X

    • Looking forward to hearing what you think of Fates & Furies next time for sure – I’m halfway through and really loving it so far. xxx

  • Love this idea, I haven’t been part of your FMN Book club yet but going to read this months one !xxx

    http://www.laurenrosestyle.com

  • Sarah W

    I couldn’t have said it better, Lucy, about seeing Tess as a a younger version of ourselves. I see Tess as a newly freed young adult that’s looking for her place in the world. She dreams and yearns to experience – making both forgettable and unforgettable memories along with poor choices. Sometimes I just wanted to yell at her to get her life together… But she is searching for herself, her place in the world, and simple happiness. I think most of us have made a few questionable choices in our lives where we woke up and said, “what am I doing in my life!? Is this really what I want? Is this what I expected my life to be?”

    I agree that the future for Tess is the “dawn of a newer, brighter future”. Even though Tess has hit her rock bottom, I optimistically feel like she has learned from her mistakes. She will take this rollercoaster of a year and move forward to something bigger and better. Even though I don’t think she knows what she wants, I’d like to think she knows what she DOESN’T want – which is sometimes just as good!

    I’m also curious about Simone. I wonder… what is her goal in life? Is it to be the best server at the restaurant? Best server in NY? Why didn’t she ever leave? Does she regret her choices? Even though she comes off as a tough cookie, she is extremely fragile – as shown by when the former server came in for dinner. And while she is very passionate about food and wine, she seems really unhappy where she is at in her life.

    Although it was sometimes a love/hate relationship with this book, I couldn’t put it down.
    From a personal standpoint, I loved all of the book’s references to NYC and the food and wine culture. They really struck a chord with me and my time living in the West Village in my early 20s, along with my new life in France.

    Can’t wait to get my hands on Fates & Furies!

    • Love that you had a personal way to engage with the book – that makes books like that resonate even more. And I agree, I like that tess was so flawed like we all are… Knowing what you don’t want is what your twenties are all about I reckon and I agree, that’s what i really felt throughout the book, getting those dreaded but inevitable mistakes out the way, or at least the first few mistakes out the way anyway xx

  • The Gold Lipstick

    Absolutely love it!!

    Mireia from TGL
    https://thegoldlipstick.com/

  • Pandora Sykes

    I LOVE FATES AND FURIES! It’s SO GOOD.

    • Yay! I’m loving it so far… Just about to move onto Furies… xxx

  • Jovita Antanovich

    After this nice introduction I really feel like reading this book! Thanks for sharing Lucy ;)

    Jovita from Black Vanilla
    http://www.b-vanilla.com

  • Catarina Mira

    I was absolute gripped toTess’s journey. Made me realize that one can live in the most cosmopolitan city in the world and still feel lonely. That in the transition to adulthood fantasies are demolished by the painful journey of growing up and learning how to take care of herself. That one can be young, beautiful and still unwanted. That we are dispensable. That we can be adults and still fantasize about what we want to be when we grow up. That finding out who we are is not a straight-line path.

    Loved it x

    http://www.catarinamira.com

    • Yes to all of those points… And aren’t cities the loneliest places of all?! So glad you loved it and thanks so much for joining/reading xx

  • Kelly Marie

    Sweetbiitter was difficult for me to get into- I think because the writing was hard to follow at times. Once the relationships between Tess/Jake/Simone developed, I was completely and utterly hooked! I thought Jake and Simone were fascinating characters. I both loved them and hated them. I loved the scene when the trio had dinner at Simone’s and celebrated Tess’ birthday; it was warm and lovely. But when Tess discovered the Vacation Request Form in Howard’s office, I could actually feel Tess’ pain and anger (Pretty sure I dropped my jaw in shock.) Overall, I really enjoyed the book! The characters and scenes really moved and stuck with me!!

    Can’t wait to read the next one! xx

    • Agreed, I loved that scene too but it almost felt doomed somehow… And yes that vacation form! I felt Tess’s pain right there. So glad you’re joining the next one too xx

  • I found Sweet Bitter really difficult to get into to be honest, I loved the descriptions of food and sometimes the wording was very poetic and sensorial, but I just seemed to be waiting for something to happen, I thought it was a bit slow to begin with. I didn’t really warm to the characters either, some of whom I don’t think were developed enough to really be able to picture them clearly in my mind, perhaps as you say because they were still figuring themselves out. That said, I have only read about half of the book as I kinda gave up on it, but maybe after reading this post I’ll give it another go and see if I can get further! Looking forward to the next one. Cate x

  • I enjoyed Sweet Bitter but I am really loving Fates & Furies! I am nearing the end and rushing to finish before you post your review.

    Loving the book club and looking forward to the next suggestion!

  • Lucy, I am ashamed that I have only just finished this book. Despite having holidays and time to read. I just couldn’t get to grips with it. Although toward the later part of the book I couldn’t put it down.
    I was gutted for Tess how it ended and I had hope in her and Jake despite knowing it wouldn’t really work. I would love to have know more about Simone and Jake also.

    I’m very behind but onto the next book!

    Petite Side of Style