From the author of the highly acclaimed The Railwayman’s Wife, called a “literary and literate gem” by Psychology Today, comes an emotionally resonant and profound new novel of two families, interconnected through the house that bears witness to their lives.
When Elsie Gormley leaves the Brisbane house in which she has lived for more than sixty years, Lucy Kiss and her family move in, eager to establish their new life. As they settle in, Lucy and her husband Ben struggle to navigate their transformation from adventurous lovers to new parents, taking comfort in memories of their vibrant past as they begin to unearth who their future selves might be. But the house has secrets of its own, and the rooms seem to share recollections of Elsie’s life with Lucy.
In her nearby nursing home, Elsie traces the span of her life—the moments she can’t bear to let go and the places to which she dreams of returning. Her beloved former house is at the heart of her memories of marriage, motherhood, love, and death, and the boundary between present and past becomes increasingly porous for both her and Lucy.
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Atria Books (November 28, 2017)
A Hundred Small Lessons is a character-driven book about life's journeys--both the beginnings and the ends. It's about two women and their families who occupy the same Brisbane house at different times. After a fall, elderly Elsie is moved by her children from her home to a nearby care facility while Lucy and her husband Ben buy the house and settle in with their toddler son, Tom. The story alternates primarily between Elsie and Lucy with much of Elsie's story looking back at her life and Lucy's more focused on the present day as her life moves forward and she adjusts to the changes that motherhood brings. Lucy feels a connection with Elsie, finding photos, a teacup and other possessions that belonged to her. She also feels Elsie's presence in the house, something her husband discounts and adding to tension brewing between them. Elsie is finding it hard to let go of her house, the memories of her beloved husband who died decades ago, and the regrets she has about her life--especially her strained relationship with her daughter.
The writing is quietly and deeply beautiful. There are no big moments or huge bursts of drama here, but the way that Hay writes about the small moments, the ones we often take for granted, gives them a resonance and an importance and made me want to keep reading. On the other hand, I was a bit unprepared for how much Elsie would make me think of my own mom and her end of life, so there were times when I would have to set the book down and walk away from it. In the end, I enjoyed this glimpse at two lives, separate but connected, and the lyrical way the author tells their stories. This is my first book by Ashley Hay but I will definitely explore her writing more.
Author Notes: Ashley Hay is the internationally acclaimed author of the novels The Body in the Clouds and The Railwayman’s Wife, which was honored with the Colin Roderick Award by the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies and longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the most prestigious literary prize in Australia, among numerous other accolades. She has also written four nonfiction books. She lives in Brisbane, Australia.
You can connect with Ashley via her website or Facebook.
It's not the foodiest of books but there was food to be found in A Hundred Small Lessons including breakfast, morning tea, chicken, biscuits (homemade peanut butter cookies and store-bought biscuits), champagne, Moscow Mules, cake, fried egg, a red frankfurter, beer, homemade bread with jam and honey, lamb, steak, wine, peanut butter and hard-boiled egg sandwiches, lime pickle, Duchess potatoes, gravy, cheese, ice cream, fig trees, a "rich, seafoody thing," brandy, soup, sausages, egg, sultans, raisin toast and milk, and seafood.
For my book-inspired dish I took inspiration from a lunch prepared by an artist, Ida, who Elsie sits for and who thinks they need a celebration at the finishing of her portrait of Elsie.
"So she sat at the wide green kitchen table, and she ate the luxurious prawns, and the fresh sweet tomato, and the thick slices of bread. And she let the size of the artist's words wash over her one last time--let them soak into all the chinks and crevices of herself she hadn't known before this work began."
Prawns sounded good--especially grilled prawns and so I found a recipe from Ina Garten for Herb Grilled Shrimp. Ina accompanies it with Mango Salsa but I wasn't really feeling the fruit and seafood combination so instead I made the Green Goddess Dressing she has paired with her roasted shrimp. I served the shrimp and dipping sauce with sweet local cherry tomatoes and slices of baguette for my take on Elsie and Ida's lunch.
Get the best shrimp you can. I like to buy Kauai shrimp or other local shrimp when it is available and keep it in my freezer. When it isn't available, I usually buy my shrimp from Whole Foods as they track to ensure that both their farm-raised and wild shrimp are responsibly caught or farmed and free from preservatives among other things.
Herb Grilled Pawns
Slightly Adapted by Ina Garten via BarefootContessa.com
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium yellow onion, small-diced
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
1 tsp dry mustard
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup good olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
2 lbs prawns or jumbo shrimp (16 to 20 per lb), peeled, tails left on, & deveined
Combine the garlic, onion, parsley, basil, mustards, salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice. Add the shrimp and allow them to marinate for 1 hour at room temperature or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
Prepare a charcoal grill with hot coals, and brush the grilling rack with oil to prevent the shrimp from sticking. Skewer the shrimp. (Ina uses 5 or 6 shrimp on a 12-inch skewer for a dinner serving, I used 3 shrimp on a 6-inch skewer for appetizers.)
Grill the shrimp for about 1-1/2 minutes per side or until pink and just cooked through. Serve with Ina's Mango Salsa, Cocktail Sauce, or her Green Goddess Dressing (recipe below).
Green Goddess Dressing
Adapted from Ina Garten vis FoodNetwork.com
(Makes about 2 cups)
1 cup good mayonnaise (I use Just Mayo vegan mayonnaise)
1 cup scallions, green & white parts chopped (about 6 to 7 scallions)
1 cup basil leaves, chopped (about 18 to 20 basil leaves)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp anchovy paste
2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup sour cream or yogurt
Place all ingredients except sour cream into the jar of a blender and process until smooth. Add the sour cream and process until just blended. Use immediately or refrigerate until ready to use.
Notes/Results: I had been craving good shrimp and these did not disappoint. They were plump and tender and had great flavor with the mustard and the herbs. I made just a small batch of the shrimp but made the entire Green Goddess dressing recipe--which was delicious. I like my shrimp with different sauces than the standard cocktail sauce and green goddess dressing makes an excellent partner to the sweet shrimp and I am sure I will be using it on salads the rest of this week. Together it all made for a tasty light dinner and I will happily make the shrimp and the dressing again.
I'm linking up this post to I Heart Cooking Clubs where the theme is It's Five O'Clock Somewhere!--cocktails and/or nibbles to enjoy with them--like these delicious shrimp. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.
I'm also sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of "A Hundred Small Lessons" was provided to me by the author and the publisher via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.
The publisher is generously providing a copy of A Hundred Small Lessons to give away (U.S. & Canada addresses only, sorry) here at Kahakai Kitchen.
To enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway below, leave a comment (Because I like to read them!) and briefly tell me about a small lesson you have learned over the years or if you don't want to go that deep, tell me about a favorite cocktail or appetizer or tell me why you'd like to win a copy of A Hundred Small Lessons.
There are a couple of other optional ways to get more entries to win: 1) Tweet about this giveaway or 2) follow me on Twitter (@DebinHawaii) and/or publisher Atria Books (@AtriaBooks). (Note: You can still get the extra entries even if you already follow these accounts.)
Deadline for entry is midnight (EST) on Saturday, December 2nd.
a Rafflecopter giveaway