“We wanted to expand and to be nourished - we wanted to know how that felt. To be full up,
instead of hungry and wanting”
Lara Williams' debut novel is an ode to the enraged woman. Roberta is twenty-nine, flustered with the dynamics of adulthood and finding her purpose. With her new friend Stevie, they invent the Supper Club, a secret society of women that come to feast on food. They come seeking themselves; a sickening freedom. The dual narrative between Roberta’s adolescence and adulthood is an integral part of Supper Club: as the past bleeds into her present, Roberta must overcome her fears and question what is means to be a woman.
Roberta, like many young women, never feels fulfilled. Internal conflict haunts the protagonist. Should she relish in the tedious yet blissful stability of her long term relationship? Or prioritise her new female friendships, to collectively rebel against society’s perfect depiction of a woman? Roberta’s day job is monotonous and Stevie struggles to navigate the world as an artist. The women question whether happiness will ever be in reach as all the members of the Supper Club seek to find their wild potentials. Loneliness is the theme of Roberta’s university experience, leading her to pursue validation from despicable men that destroy her self confidence (bare in mind that some passages contain self-destructive and triggering language). The mistreatment she faces from men is the catalyst for her rage. The absence of Roberta’s father is felt throughout the novel, with long letters from a man that neglected her for years. Men in Williams' Supper Club are very much a mystery and a source of pain for the female characters.
Female relationships are celebrated throughout Supper Club, in comparison to the unstable relationships we see between men and women. Roberta and Stevie have an almost spiritual bond that is solidified in the creation of the club. However, Roberta’s capacity to maintain healthy family relations and friendships are tested when she becomes tied to a man.
Williams' writing style is assertive and accessible. Many of the chapters either begin or end with a recipe or dreamy description of indulgent foods. It is a joyful interlude between plot milestones and adds a layer to Roberta’s personality, who is otherwise a reserved protagonist. However, although the very point is that this novel is supposed to outrage its readers, some of the food writing was distasteful. It’s interesting to see the conventional female gender role as cook be twisted into a practice that is liberating. What we feed our bodies is a personal choice that is often critiqued by a society obsessed with thinness. Roberta reclaims this every time she constructs a dish, willing herself to expand. It’s definitely a relatable read, and a feminist anthem for women who seek to reclaim their appetites.