Piglet by Lottie Hazell review – appetite for destruction | Fiction

Piglet by Lottie Hazell review – appetite for destruction | Fiction

The premise is this. Piglet is in her early 30s and engaged to the ostensibly perfect Kit. The couple have recently moved into a new-build in Oxford, not far from Kit’s parents. During the week Piglet commutes to London, where she works as an editorial assistant for a cookbook publisher. Life, 90 days from the wedding, presents as an idyll. Things, inevitably, must fall apart. Thirteen days before the wedding, Kit confesses to a betrayal and, on cue, cracks begin to show in Piglet’s scrupulously curated life. There is her shame at the wealth disparity between her family and her fiance’s, as her Derbyshire parents enjoy Viennetta unironically and check prices on menus, while Kit’s subsidise the couple’s mortgage and nuptials. There is the growing gulf between Piglet and her best friend, Margot, whose pregnancy heralds the end of girlish fun. There is the strain to survive the simultaneous pressures of planning a wedding and seeking a promotion. There is Piglet’s difficult relationship to food.

Hunger in all its forms is central to Lottie Hazell’s debut novel, and the discomforting nature of Piglet’s name is not unearned. Class ambition and a rigid conformity to social hierarchy conspire to make the book’s protagonist a challenging one. When Piglet orders her mother to “talk properly” in front of her rich in-laws, one wonders how her own voice could vary. When she mistakenly offers to buy toddler-sized clothes for Margot’s newborn, her justification (“babies have so many rules”) comes off as self-absorbed. The cadence of Piglet’s own inner turmoil is frequently delivered through her neurotic approach to food: she cooks roast dinners to enhance scenes of domestic bliss and Middle Eastern to display her cosmopolitan affect. She declares a determination to make croquembouche for her French-country-style wedding, and, when alone, gorges on fast food to repress her feelings of doubt. This in itself is fertile ground, and with chapter headings counting down the days to the wedding while the couple do their best to ignore the implications of Kit’s deceit, there can be no doubt that the big day will end in carnage.

And yet, when Piglet finally does confront the ugliness of her own desires, the novel’s great revelations lie in uncomplicatedly virtuous scenes that disappoint the promises wrought by class standoffs and ostentatiously ripped wedding attire. Given how complex Piglet’s flawed cravings make her at the start, it’s difficult to feel satisfaction over the simplicity of her self-flagellation at the end. “Her wants,” Piglet reflects, “were untrustworthy allies … She had eaten her heart out. It had not changed a thing.” It’s too tidy, too guileless an end for a plot concerned with how certain combinations of class and gender may shape and then gradually distort the yearnings a person might build their entire life on. As with the novel’s frequent descriptions of food, I wished for a surprise, a shock to the system that never came. Greek yoghurt is “thick”, cooked pasta is “silky”, pizza is “doughy”, and ribs are “sticky”. It’s a repertoire that comforts in its familiarity but fails to excite. Piglet is greedy, and then she is chastened. She learns to live by a more conventionally liberal code, similar to that espoused by her middle-class colleagues who play “problematic bingo, where all the winners are still old white dudes”. Her binge-eating, the most vulnerable and purposive subject the book could have broken open, is modestly probed and forgivingly put to rest.

Piglet is Hazell’s first novel, and there is a fallacy at the heart of our current thinking when it comes to debuts: they must be so brilliant as to catapult the author into overnight fame, otherwise they are worthless. One forgets that a first attempt has every right to be just that: a first attempt, which serves as a springboard for future, more prosperous efforts. It’s hard not to draw comparisons between this protagonist and a certain other thirtysomething fictional woman with a dirty-sounding nickname, a strained family dynamic, good intentions, and an unhealthy relationship to that which should nourish her body and spirit. Still, where Fleabag was rudely subversive, delivering car-crash scenes with infectious glee and a refusal to offer up easy answers, this book hesitates, unwilling to stray from its too-gentle moral core. The lessons it gives us have, by now, been well drilled in – it is foolhardy to turn your back on your class roots; a woman’s body is an endlessly negotiated thing; when times are bad, you will find solace in your female friends. Of course. Piglet is an easy novel to pass a Sunday afternoon with, but Hazell’s chosen points of interest are valiantly inflammatory ones, and one wishes they were interrogated less politely. Perhaps next time, they might be.

Piglet by Lottie Hazell is published by Doubleday (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

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