Having loved Fiona Mozley’s Booker-nominated debut “Elmet”, I simply wasn’t prepared for “Hot Stew”. To my mind the two books are so ‘chalk and cheese’ that they could have been written by different people.
Not that “Hot Stew” is a ‘bad’ book. It isn’t. But it is remarkably different in subject matter, style and tone. A kind of portmanteau novel sharing the various stories of many isolated yet interlinked characters, there is a lightness in the telling that is a million miles from “Elmet”. Indeed in some places it is just funny (deliberately so). It is, of course, well written and – once you get into the flow – difficult not to turn to the next page.
In an ‘Afterword’ at the back of the book, Mozley talks about the genesis of “Hot Stew” and how it relates to “Elmet”. I confess it is so different – and in a way, ‘younger’ – that for a while I’d thought that she might have written it before “Elmet” and dusted it off once the first book had landed successfully. Not a bit of it. “Hot Stew” came hot on the heels of “Elmet” (they even coalesced for a while) and as such seems to have represented something of a release for its Author.
That’s easy to relate to.
In summary, read Mozley – but I am uncertain of the sequence in which you should read her two books. Either way, there will be a jolt between the two experiences.