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The Cookbook of Common Prayer

by Francesca Haig

Modern and Contemporary Fiction Family Drama Books of the Month Literary Fiction Book Club Recommendations

LoveReading Expert Review of The Cookbook of Common Prayer

Exceptional soul-stirring story of devastating loss, distracting obsessions, and a family’s agonising struggles to rebuild broken lives through love and honesty.

What a devastatingly honest - and brilliant - book this is. Its portrayal of grief and the absurdity of death - the bizarre, unfathomable fact that someone just isn’t there anymore - are simply incredible. Earth-shatteringly raw and resonant, it’s a book that will break your heart and heal it.

Set in Tasmania and London, Gill and Gabe are thousands of miles from their son, Dougie, when they’re told he’s drowned in a caving accident in England. They rush to London, deciding to keep Dougie’s death from their daughter Sylvie, who’s seriously ill with anorexia, and leaving their adorable youngest child, Teddy in the care of a close friend and his equally adorable grandfather Papabee, who has dementia. In England, chef and food writer Gill can’t face viewing her son’s body, can’t face the fact of Dougie’s death and so she returns to Tasmania, keeping up the pretence that he’s still alive by writing letters from him to Sylvie - it becomes an obsession. In England, Gabe obsesses over every excruciating detail of Dougie’s death, both of them distracting themselves from the truth. In contrast, Teddy is working to uncover the truth of Sylvie’s illness, believing she’ll get well if he can work out when it began - his love and steadfast determination to save his sister are incredibly touching, and I cannot praise the authentic, tender representation of his relationship with granddad Papabee enough. Inseparable, they have their own “TeddyandPapabee” collective noun. Teddy also perfectly expresses brutal truths about death and grief with piercing honesty: “When Dougie went into that little box, I thought the main bit of his dying was finished. I was wrong. Nobody tells you that being dead just keeps on going… he’s dead every day.” Similarly, in her haunting monologues, Sylvie reveals brutal truths about her anorexia.

Peppered with Gill’s heart-breaking recipes (Mediterranean vegetable soup for the day you land in England to collect your son’s body; Roast beetroot salad for the week after your son’s post-mortem results are released), the story reels and swerves to a truly edge-of-your-seat, hold-your-breath conclusion. While the family’s pain and grief always tangible, the buds of healing are too. What a book.

Joanne Owen

The Cookbook of Common Prayer Synopsis

When Gill and Gabe's elder son drowns overseas, they decide they must hide the truth from their desperately unwell teenaged daughter. But as Gill begins to send letters from her dead son to his sister, the increasingly elaborate lie threatens to prove more dangerous than the truth. A novel about family, food, grief, and hope, this gripping, lyrical story moves between Tasmania and London, exploring the many ways that a family can break down - and the unexpected ways that it can be put back together.

About This Edition

ISBN: 9781911630906
Publication date: 3rd June 2021
Author: Francesca Haig
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Format: Hardback
Pagination: 432 pages
Primary Genre Family Drama
Other Genres:
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What To Read After The Cookbook of Common Prayer

House of Joy
Living in Perhaps
The Girl on the Cliff
Body Surfing

The Cookbook of Common Prayer Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

An engrossing story of grief, family closeness and stresses, secrets, and cooking. It poses the question of how far you will go to keep your remaining children safe when one of them dies suddenly.

This is an engrossing story of grief, family closeness and stresses, secrets, and cooking. It poses the serious question of how far you will go to keep your remaining children safe when one of them dies suddenly. When Gill and Gabe’s son Dougie dies suddenly thousands of miles from home, they are faced with the dilemma of how to tell their teenaged daughter Sylvie, seriously ill in hospital, that her beloved brother has died. Their fear that the news will kill her too means they take a risky and unorthodox approach to managing the coming months.
It was easy to empathise with Gill and Gabe and to understand their actions, but there are times you want to shout “Stop, don’t do that! You’re going too far!” Eventually it is Sylvie herself who finds the way to rebuild her broken family before another tragedy occurs.

The family interactions and verbal shortcuts, the memories and shared pleasures, are all familiar to anyone who has lived in a family unit. The youngest sibling Teddy’s list of the family’s unique language made me think of all my own family’s expressions over the years and smile. This is a book where you will recognise and savour the family ties, and probably be intrigued to try the recipes.

Alison Burns

A wonderful book of family, food, love and loss. I adored it.

I was lucky enough to request and be sent a copy of this book by LoveReading and it’s fair to say that I was a bit dubious about the subject, as it deals with the aftermath of the death of a teenage boy. But once I’d started I couldn’t stop reading and absolutely adored it. I really didn’t want to put it down and when I did I found myself thinking about and missing the characters. I also took sneaky breaks from what I should have been doing to read a couple more pages.

While the book is obviously about grief and its impact on a family, the overwhelming emotion is always love – all the different kinds that exist within a family, how it can bring people together but also push them apart. It’s narrated by different members of the Jordan family who each deal with grief in their own way. My favourite character was 11-year old Teddy who feels it’s his responsibility to try to fix things while struggling to cope with what’s happened.

All the characters here, even minor ones, are real people that I wanted to reach out to. I was torn between racing through to find out everything I could about them, and wanting to take it slow and spend as much time with them as possible. I’m still thinking about them now. The book reminded me Jodi Picoult’s work, but I enjoyed it more than I have any of her books.

Susan Berwick

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9781911630906
Publication date: 03/06/2021
Format: Hardback

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About Francesca Haig

Francesca Haig grew up in Tasmania, gained her PhD from the University of Melbourne, and was a senior lecturer at the University of Chester. Her poetry has been published in literary journals and anthologies in both Australia and England, and her first collection of poetry, BODIES OF WATER, was published in 2006. In 2010 she was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship. She lives in London with her husband and son.

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