Saturday, 28 February 2009
Bibliotherapy: What to read (and what to eat) when your husband leaves you for another woman
Here's my column in today's Sunday Telegraph. I feel that it should be accompanied by your recipes, given how many lovely people that contribute to this blog have already been sharing their heartwarming ingredients for what to eat while feeling heartbroken. It would be fantastic if you could post your recipes as comments at the end of this piece, so that other people can read them and find solace from them in similar circumstances. Vietnamese noodle soup, linguini with prawns, chocolate cake -- we've been talking about them together, and now let's get them written down, ready to be shared between Edinburgh and London, Minnesota and Melbourne, and everywhere and everyone else that reaches out with kindness, between the lines of this blog...
I'll start things off with a recipe for cherry cheesecake from Nigella Lawson. Nigella introduced me to the joys of cheesecake and Nora Ephron, and it's her fabulous cheesecake that is pictured above...
You might think that reading a novel is far less important than consulting a lawyer or a marriage guidance counsellor in these unhappy circumstances; but honestly, Nora Ephron’s Heartburn has much to recommend it instead. It’s a practical remedy in a ghastly situation – as cheering a voice as a dear friend in the dark hours before dawn, when you’ve been weeping into a pillow for several nights in a row.
Ephron wrote Heartburn in 1983 as a fictionalised version of the end of her marriage, a breaking point with particularly cruel timing, given that she was seven months pregnant with her second son. Her husband, Carl Bernstein (a Washington Post journalist famous for his part in uncovering the Watergate scandal), was, in reality, having a torrid affair with Margaret Jay, wife of the British ambassador to the United States. In her novel, Ephron turns her faithless husband into Mark, and Margaret into Thelma, and the whole messy situation into a beautifully written narrative.
As the author admits in an introduction to the most recent edition of the novel, over 25 years after its first publication, Heartburn is often referred to as ‘thinly disguised’. “I have no real quarrel with this description,” she observes, “even though I’ve noticed, over the years, that the words ‘thinly disguised’ are applied mostly to books written by women. Let’s face it, Philip Roth and John Updike picked away at the carcasses of their early marriages in book after book, but to the best of my knowledge they were never hit with the thinly disguised thing.”
In fact, ‘thinly’ is entirely the wrong adjective to apply to this great big heartfelt novel, filled with stories about marriage, guilt, love, loss, and how to make jokes, even when your world is falling apart. It also has an excellent recipe for Key lime pie covered with whipped cream to throw at a cheating husband; and another for cheesecake, which may not seem like the best cure for heartburn – it contains 12 ounces of cream cheese, 4 eggs, a cup of sugar, and two cups of sour cream – but trust me, cheesecake is tremendously good for heartbreak, along with a large helping of Nora Ephron.