Nutmeg is a breath of fresh air - completely different from any book I've read lately. It's the story of Meg, who is trying to find out the truth about her origins, but whose mother thwarts her at every turn with a string of impossible fairytale answers. Meg's father was, apparently, the most wonderful French pastry chef who fell in love with her mother in a cherry orchard then died, just days later, in the midst of trying to create an incredible cherry pastry in her honour. The scar on her head is from a crab cake which had a live crab claw left inside that nipped her. And Meg's mother is such a great cook that her lighter-than-air meringues make you float to the ceiling after a single bite...
Now 21, Meg knows that these stories are nothing but flights of her mother's imagination. She has turned to science as a reaction to the stories, preferring to deal with cold, hard facts. The problem is, her mother is very ill and still refuses to tell the truth. How is Meg meant to find out how she really is, when nobody else can tell her?
I really enjoyed this book. The beginning half in particular is beautifully, poetically written - full of tastes, flavours and scents. I loved the dynamic between Meg and her mother - the head and heart, reality and fantasy. There is a sort of magic about the story that made it feel really unique.
I don't think it's a perfect book - the second half felt slightly rushed and I never quite believed in Mark, Meg's scientist boyfriend whose quest for the truth at all times makes him unsympathetic and more of a viewpoint than a character. But I fell in love with Meg and her mother, and overall this is a funny, moving and very original story. What's more, it'll make you feel very hungry...
Meg has a mother with the most extraordinary imagination.
In her childhood Meg believed her mother's flights of fantasy were true, but around age 11 disillusionment set in and instead Meg decided her mum was telling her lies. Meg turned to studying science with a passion, she craved reliable cold hard facts. Not stories of runner beans running around the kitchen or the spaghetti tree that grew in their window box after a neighbour dripped some of her dinner carelessly out of the window.
I really enjoyed Meg's mother Valerie's stories. They are inventive and funny. Now a grown up and a scientist Meg just wants to get to the bottom of why Valerie spins these yarns.
An important fact about Valerie is that she really loves cooking. The book is peppered with food references, indeed the first sentence is "I came out a little underdone". Meg believes her father was a French pastry chef.
Not wanting to upset her mother who is clearly very ill with cancer ( though totally in denial), Meg starts to investigate the truth of her childhood starting with the only clue she has, an address on the back of an old flier with an advert for a band playing at a pub in London.
At one stage I was getting irritated by the ridiculousness of the magical thinking. Can slugs really have soft souls? If you speak to them and explain you don't want them to eat your lettuces, will they leave them alone? I don't think so!
I put the book away and left it for days before I could face carrying on. I wanted Meg to confront her mother. She doesn't. She follows up on the clue that she has and soon the story took off and became much more interesting to me. I don't want to spoil the story so I will say no more on this.
There is a lot I liked and enjoyed but I did feel the book sagged a bit in the middle, partly because I couldn't believe in the boyfriend Mark. He remained shadowy unlike Meg and Valerie and other characters who appear. Nutmeg began life as a short story and think this shows a bit in the middle. I do think it works as a novel. As long as you can suspend disbelief and believe in fairies you will love this!
Nutmeg - usually known as Meg - has found her mother to be a sad trial throughout her life. Is her mother mad or just very imaginative? Was Meg's father really a French pastry chef who met a surreal and sticky end? Or was he someone completely different? Meg has reacted against her upbringing and is studying science at university because she cannot deal with runner beans which run away and crab cakes which bite. Now her mother is dying and she has moved back home to look after her.
But Meg's mother, Valerie, refuses to accept she is dying and Meg can't cope with her denial. Her boyfriend, Mark, is constantly urging her to find out who her father was as this is her last chance to ask her mother some pertinent questions but he doesn't understand how difficult it is to pin her mother down to bare facts unadorned by whimsy.
On the surface this is a charming novel about mother and daughter relationships but it can also be read on many levels and has some profound messages for all of us. How can human beings reconcile science and the imagination and is one of more importance than the other? With the help of Ewan the gardener who is sorting out Valerie's overgrown garden, Meg starts to come to terms with her own upbringing and the divisions within her own nature.
I loved the writing style and the characters themselves - seen through the eyes of Meg herself - were fascinating. Valerie is a marvellous person and just exactly how marvellous she is, is gradually revealed throughout the book. I really enjoyed the amusing stories Valerie told though it was easy to see what effect they would have on a child who believed everything her mother told her only to find that her peers at school branded Meg a liar for repeating the stories. I thought all the characters were well drawn and the author really brought them to life.
The title of this book could almost have been `Only Connect' and I was reminded of E M Forster's Howards' End in which the characters are urged to connect the prose and the passion in life. In Nutmeg the connection needs to be made between science and the imagination for the characters to have a full and meaningful life. Valerie succeeded in making the connection in her own way - can Nutmeg do the same?
Meg May has sought refuge in science and fact after her mother's fantastical upbringing brought her ridicule at school but her mother's illness means time is running out to discover the truth about her father and early days - this is an excellent read that explores the mother/daughter relationship beautifully. The relationship between Meg and her mother is at the core of the story; their different slants on life are explored and explained in a moving way that draws you into the story. I found Mark, Meg's boyfriend, difficult to see as a fully rounded character and that would be my one gripe with the book but I forgive the author because the rest has some lovely story-telling and it also made me think.
If you enjoy imaginative and creative stories with emotional heart this is a great read.
on 10 January 2014
I thought this might be a good beach read so took it on my holiday. I was not disappointed and despite its somewhat girly cover and seemingly well worn tale of 'finding' yourself, this book was a pleasure to read.
Many of the other reviewers have outlined the story so I won't drone on, however I loved the main characters mother and was really sad when all the fun and stories ended. She tries her best to keep up the facade of Meg's life story and grips on to it even till the end, but you can feel the sheer effort it takes for her to create this huge fantasy in order to mask the truth.
Meg and her Mum have a rather strained relationship when Meg comes to realize that all the stories about her childhood aren't true. She turns her life into a quest for the truth by becoming a physics student and falling 'in love' with the rather brilliant Mark. Her life is solid, void of imagination (or much fun) and built firmly on the foundation of reality. Her Mother meanwhile appears to live in a dream world where food is alive (naughty runner beans have to be caught quickly before they make their escape) plants have to be encouraged to grow with conversation and her child had the most extraordinary upbringing imaginable.
I think the only thing that didn't really fit for me was the age of Meg's mother. She is only around 40 and yet the way in which this book is written brings me to mind of a little old lady. Its true she is suffering from ill health, which often leaves her breathless and in need of rest, but the feeling that you get is that Meg's mother is far older than her actual years.
Some of the stories Meg's mother create for her also put me in mind of Roald Dhal's fantastic creations (a crab cake giving the infant Meg a nasty nip, meringues so light you float off your chair etc) but this wasn't such a bad thing. I loved these stories and understood, as the book progressed, why Meg had been told all these fantastic things instead of the unhappy truth.
There's a bit of romance in the shape of the educated gardener, which was a welcome relief for the acerbic, proud and snobbish Mark and some fun adventures in unsavory pubs.
Meg does learn the sad truth about her childhood which takes away the nasty sting of the taunts she received at school when she told her fantastic tales. I'm not sure she learned them a little too late as she is only a really young woman herself, but the bitter sweet ending of the book leaves you feeling quite lifted.
This is a glorious book for the senses, a tale that will make you laugh and cry and a heartwarming reminder that sometimes its better to believe in the fairy tales, even if its only for a while.
This lovely book tells the story of 21 yr old Meg and her relationship with her eccentric, imaginative mother (Valerie) whom she learns has cancer. Meg leaves her academic role to return home and look after Valerie; and as the two spend time together Meg starts to unravel the truth behind her somewhat chaotic early childhood.
Her mother appears to live in a fantasy food world - she's chasing runner beans, trying to catch toads for toad in the hole, regaling tales of spaghetti jungles and how whipping egg whites caused them to float in the air.
The author draws you into this rather bizarre world and at first I felt such sympathy for Meg and wondered what on earth had made Valerie quite so dotty. Gradually you get to know Meg more and see how the effect of this parenthood has created a rather intense, dour and studious woman with a rather dull and pompous boyfriend.
Along comes the gardener who embraces Valerie and her stories and observing this relationship Meg wants to get close again once more with her mother and finds herself wanting to know more about her childhood. Over the course of the novel she does!
I found the ending sad, happy, satisfying and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is well written. I found Valerie's tales wacky and imaginative and I loved how the tales told by the gardener were gently woven into the plot with a thought provoking twist. There were times when characters or scenarios were a tad corny or predictable - but I would still recommend this novel. Enjoy!
This is a sort of coming-of-emotional-age novel, in which the main character re-discovers herself and discovers the value of fantasy and whimsy over hard facts and practicality.
The first half of the novel is primarily character-driven, and is propelled by the interactions of the central protagonist, Meg (Nutmeg) and her mother. Meg is practical, prosaic, earnest, logical, and seemingly entirely devoid of humour. She has become this way in reaction to her mother, who lives in a fantasy world inhabited by fairies and talking vegetables, a lifetime of which has left Meg feeling unsettled and ungrounded. So she clings to her hard-nosed practical fact-loving scientist persona to gain a bit of inner stability. This I felt was the weaker of the two halves. It's reasonably well-written (even given that, as for most Amazon vine copies it seems, this is an "uncorrected proof"), but the characters are a bit two dimensional - more caricature than character. I'm not sure if this is just an expression of the author's sense of humour, or if she was just going a bit overboard making her point about the ultra-whimsical fantasist clashing with the ultra-practical scientist.
Towards the second half of the book, a plot starts to emerge, and it is here that the story becomes engaging (at least for me). Meg gets a clue as to what her origins might be, and in her searches, learns what has driven her mother into this fantasy-world. it's still a bit superficial, but reads a bit truer than the earlier pages.
The big plus of the book is its originality - not entirely fantasy, not entirely real-life, it mixes the two pleasingly. I hope the author meets some real life scientists one day and revises her opinions of them (no one as lacking in creativity or wonder as Meg in the first part of the book could possibly be a successful scientist, but the author's portrayal suggests that she doesn't know a lot about science or scientists - a side note, but I think still relevant as this is part of what makes the characters initially seem more like caricature than real people - would greatly improve the book to give Meg and her mother more complex facets)
I'd give this one 3.5 stars if I could, but overall a reasonably worthwhile read.
I remember magical realism made an impact on literature in the late '80s and were wonderful to read. They still are. Goodin's Nutmeg is reminiscent of such novels with the added twist of the main character, Meg, having to live with the magical reality her mother, Val, tries to create of their life. Meg meets the question of what is real early on in life when at eight, her classmates' and teacher's derision challenges the world view her mother has formed for her. From then on, she turns away from her mother's fantasies and devotes herself to the pursuit of hard facts, eventually finding an outlet for her rebellion against her mother's imaginary world in science.
When Meg, in her twenties, has to face that her mother is seriously ill, she gradually learns the facts underpinning her mother's stories and the reasons for her mother's illusions. She also realizes that reality isn't everything and that magic -- not necessarily fantastical of delusional -- has a place in everyday life.
Goodin writes of the relationship between Meg and Val well and evokes the frictions and comforts between mothers and daughters beautifully. Meg's reactions and emotions to her mother's illness are believable and touching as are Val's actions when she tacitly accepts her mortality.
Strangely enough, the men in Meg's life -- her boyfriend Mark, the gardener Ewan, rock band wannabes Chlorine -- and other peripheral characters suffer from sketchy characterization and tend to fall flat. This effect may or may not be intentional; it gives the narrative a slightly unbalanced feel. You see that the novel could be longer -- and more involving -- with more solid characters. For all that, it's still pretty readable.
I was totally enchanted by this novel which is at once funny, moving and thought-provoking.
The story hinges around the relationship between Meg and her eccentric mother, who is terminally ill. The book is a sensory delight as Meg's mother is obsessed with cooking. What's more she has never told Meg the truth about her childhood but has told her stories that fictionalise Meg's life. Meg's memories are made from her mother's stories. Most of the stories involve food - the tastes and smells of pastry and cakes, herbs and spices. Rebelling against this fictional life, Meg takes refuge in science and cold hard facts. But cold hard facts cannot tell the truth as well as fiction can, and it is this that makes the book so engrossing.
Meg's mother is endearing precisely because of her story-telling and eccentricity, something which Meg's boyfriend, the rational Mark, sees as lies and mental illness. Mark is determined to cling to his own myth of scientific sanity, and his attempts to do so mean he rides rough shod over others sensibilities. When Meg eventually finds out the truth about her childhood, she is left wondering whether the memories her mother invented for her gave her a better start in life than the truth.
The divide between fact and fiction is a slippery one, and one which Maria Goodin exploits brilliantly. So much so, that at the end of the book when Meg's mother's funeral arrives you are left wondering how much of Meg's portrayal of it is real and how much of Meg's story was "true".
Tender, funny and poignant, this has definitely been the highlight of my reading year so far, and one I shall be recommending to all my friends.
Wade through the metaphor heavy narrative and at the heart of this story lies the simple and always heart-wrenching relationship between mother and daughter. Meg's mother, however, is not of the usual motherly type. Instead she has weaved a fairytale life for her daughter.
From the story of her birth, to the bizarre truth about runner beans Meg had believed every magical word until humiliation at school changed Meg's view completely. Now securely tucked in to a world where facts are all that matters Meg has to return home when her mother becomes terminally ill.
While lacking the expertise of Joanne Harris to bring a culinary spell (that Meg's mother is a cook seems half-hearted at best, in an attempt to link a theme throughout) to the reader this is an enchanting book nonetheless.