Lucy Ellmann was born an American and raised an Englishwoman. One gets the same feeling about her main character, Suzy, in her first novel, Sweet Desserts. I’ve seen one website that refers to this book as ‘autobiographical’, and many that don’t. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if it were. Suzy is, for the main part of the novel, a young American woman living in England, dealing with a young daughter, a neglectful partner, and self-destructive binge-eating habits. Suzy’s own personal ad is a good example of Ellmann’s witty yet likable prose:
“FAT damsel-in-distress, own car, hair, teeth, breasts, seeks extracurricular SEX with a Prince Charming, or Semi-Charming, to keep the wolf at bay.”
The novel is really about Suzy’s slow process of coming to grips with life, from mere adolescent disappointments to young motherhood. While this might sound like a pretty depressing summary, Ellmann manages to brighten it up in some pretty nifty ways. She has a unique style: the entire novel is littered with supposed ‘extracts’ (from cookery books, personal ads) and occasionally features tick-off lists relating to topics including household chores! The novel also keeps things moving by shifting perspective quite often, particularly in its early pages – forgetting the blurb, I initially assumed Suzy’s sister, Franny, would be the focal point of the book. This gives you an interesting dual-perspective of the characters, as well as providing a more well-rounded view of the world (and life) that Ellmann is presenting in the novel. At a short ‘n’ sweet 142 pages, it never gets dull.
My final thoughts? Had I not flicked through it, on first picking this book up I would have immediately discarded it as ‘kitchen sink rubbish’, and thought no more about it. Even the title says that to me. But doing that might be a big mistake; I’m not going to claim it should have won the Booker, and I’m not saying it’ll change your life (she’s not AM Homes). But – seeing a book revitalise and refresh the domestic drama genre is something worth seeing. It’s short, and you can read it in a train journey. I recommend you do.