Genre: Historical Fiction
Narrative Style: Third Person
Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge 2015 – genre fiction for foodies
Synopsis: Martine and Phillipa live a quietly pious life in a remote part of Norway. Their lives are ordered and there are no surprises. That is until the arrival of Babette, a refugee from the French revolution. Babette is a cook and although she wishes to cook more extravagant meals, she agrees to cook the simple dishes that the sisters require. That is until she wins money in the French lottery and insists on catering for the whole town.
I really had no idea what to expect from this book. I was looking specifically for the challenge as I must admit fiction for foodies is not really a genre I know much about and a lot of the books I was finding seemed like chick lit and I tend to find that a bit annoying. So when I saw this, I jumped at it.
The main characters are two elderly sisters – named after radical religious reformers – who have eschewed love and adventure to remain pious and devote their lives to the church and God. Growing up, they are much in the thrall of their father, the pastor who stops any chances of marriage that the sisters may have had.
Years later, Babette appears on their doorstep, a French refugee who cooks for the sisters. Every week, she faithfully plays the French lottery. One day, many years later she wins 10000 francs and instead of moving home, as the sisters assume she will, she offers to create the feast to celebrate the anniversary of the pastor’s 100th birthday.
The feast represents everything that the sisters have removed from their lives. It is sumptuous, rich and over the top. The sisters and the townsfolk have misgivings about the feast but resolve not to mention the food, no matter what they think of it. So they sit and eat the most incredible meal they have ever had without ever commenting on it.
This was an odd story which was rich in symbolism and an interesting look at the meaning of self-sacrifice. The sisters may have devoted their lives to the church but Babette sacrifices her entire winnings to pay for the feast, to have the townsfolk not even mention her efforts. Her sacrifice is surely greater. While it was interesting, I wasn’t really grabbed by the characters and didn’t really feel any emotion at the end of the story.