Book review: An Appetite for Violets

Martine BaileyThe beginning: it is 1773. Kitt, a brother who seeks his disappeared sister, arrives at an Italian villa to find it abandoned, the dinner table laid with forgotten cakes and sweetmeats. You think the story of An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey will be about Kitt’s sister Lady Carinna but she is a bit-player. The real story belongs to her under-cook Obedience, Biddy, Leigh, forced to accompany her mistress on a Grand Tour to the Continent.

After this first short section at the Villa Ombrosa, the story starts at Mawton Hall in 1772 where the servants are surprised by the arrival of their new mistress, without her elderly husband. Lady Carinna asks Biddy to copy her favourite violet sweets bought from an expensive London store. Although Biddy is an honest cook she is not a craftswoman, and her attempt produces “shocking poor copies of the originals.” She is rescued by the Indonesian footman Mr Loveday who provides a box of original sweets to substitute for Biddy’s home-made variety. Pleased with the sweets Lady Carinna gives Biddy a rose silk gown. Trying on the dress, Biddy gets a glimpse of a life so different from her own.

This experience bonds the two servants, a bond which lasts throughout their journey to Italy. Biddy and Loveday each have their own way of escaping the demands of their mistress, and they vow to support each other no matter what happens. But then they start overhearing secrets, Loveday reads the letters he is bidden to deliver, and Biddy becomes entwined in Carinna’s plan of deception.

Martine Bailey


Bailey [above] admits to being fascinated by food, and every chapter of Biddy’s is preceded by an excerpt from The Cook’s Jewel, an old household book of recipes, which she takes with her on the journey. As she travels through France and then Italy, Biddy begins to add her own recipes which are linked to the next part of her tale. And it is a tale of excess, guilt and deception, ideally suited to the language of food. As the carriage leaves Mawton Hall at the beginning of the journey, Biddy thinks of her sweetheart Jem left behind, “I pulled down my cap and wept, like a bag of whey that drips without end.”

To visit Martine Bailey’s website, click here.

If you like ‘An Appetite for Violets’, try these other novels about food:-
‘The Art of Baking Blind’ by Sarah Vaughan
‘The Joy Luck Club’ by Amy Tan
‘The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’ by Aimee Bender

‘An Appetite for Violets’ by Martine Bailey [UK: Hodder] Buy now

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AN APPETITE FOR VIOLETS by @MartineBailey #bookreview via @SandraDanby