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The Mussel Feast

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Review of The Mussel Feast by Brigit Vanderbeke, translated by Jamie Bulloch.


The novels start with a mother and her two children sitting down to wait for their usually on time father to arrive home for dinner at 6pm. The mother has cooked mussels, which she dislikes as does her daughter (the narrator) but the father and son quite enjoy. There is a fair bit of the novel where the narrator describes her real dislike of mussels. I've never had mussels but it kind of puts me off eating them ;)


This novel is a short novel from Peirene Press, covering 100 pages or so nd told in one monologueic burst. What transpires is the daughter recounting her experience of her father. The family we learn had been refuggees from East Germany to West Germany and that while in the refugee camp, the mother had been pregnant with a third child but had an abortion.


I found in the father in the daughter's memories (I don't believe the characters were named) to be very overbearing, very strict father and who even with the girl getting top- grades in school, he would see it as an opportunity to try to put her down for them (To paraphrase "school was a lot harder in my days. Your 1 would only be a 3 in my class." I found this funny as when I was growing up, it was something discussed as well in the declining standards. The author Vanderbeke having written this in 1990 would have been an early generation so maybe the A's in my day would be D's or F's back in the father's day. Maybe I've digressed a bit). A father disappointed in his life, whose main thing he cares about isn't happiness or well being but status.


Vanderbeke and her translator, Jamie Bulloch have done a great job in creating a monologue that unwinds it self into an excellent novel, filled with intricacies of the family life.


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