Magazine article The Spectator

Gut Instincts

Magazine article The Spectator

Gut Instincts

Article excerpt

CLEAVING

by Julie Powell Penguin, £12.99, pp. 294, ISBN 9781905490479 . £10.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Julie Powell wrote Julie and Julia, a book (and now a film) in which she described her attempts to cook a huge number of recipes by the cookery writer Julia Child. I haven't read that book, but I get the impression that Powell, 30-ish and married to her childhood sweetheart, was going nuts, and used the cooking as a sort of therapy. Well, here she's going nuts again, and it's pretty serious.

This time, she decides to become a butcher.

At the start of the book, we find her slicing up a piece of liver and getting blood on her face. She tells us her troubles, which amount to the fact that, while she's still married to Eric, and still loves him, she's having a mad affair with someone else. She is comfortable with Eric. But she's drawn to this other man in an unhealthy, self-punitive way. She's out of control.

Early in the book, she tells us she has a theory about Jack the Ripper. 'I am by now fairly confident, ' she says, 'that should I want to surgically excise a streetwalker's liver, I could manage it. I will even confess that I can sort of imagine the appeal.' She continues:

'Don't get me wrong: I'm not an advocate for slashing prostitutes' throats and rummaging through their innards as a valid lifestyle choice.'

And then she tells us her Jack the Ripper theory. It's more or less this: if you slash a prostitute to death, and then feel remorse, butchering the corpse might be a sort of atonement - for Jack, it might have represented 'the tiny kernel of sanity left to him.'

My God, I would hate to read this book if I was poor old Eric. He comes across as slow and steady, and sometimes cuddly. But what his wife wants is brutal - or, at the very least, vigorous - sex with her lover, and she keeps on telling us about it. This other chap, who she calls D, is 'skinny, with hooded eyes, Mick Jagger lips and a weak chin. …

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