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Authors: Maria Goodin

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The Storyteller's Daughter

BOOK: The Storyteller's Daughter
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The Storyteller's Daughter

‘I was totally enchanted by this novel which is at once funny, moving and thought-provoking . . . Tender, funny and poignant, this has definitely been the highlight of my reading year so far, and one I shall be recommending to all my friends.' —Deborah Swift,
The Riddle of Writing

‘A delicious confection. A tender fable about love and the power of the imagination to both sustain and heal us.'—Laura Harrington

‘A beautifully quirky gem of a novel' —
Laissez Faire

‘I would recommend it for fans of Joanne Harris who like a food theme and I also found comparisons with
Big Fish
by Daniel Wallace. If you like a good fairytale then you may well like this.' —
New Books Magazine

‘. . . a heartwarming story about love and the reasons why it's sometimes easier and kinder to tell lies rather than the truth. It's a gentle, undemanding read that is simply enchanting.' —
Bookish Magpie

‘A quirky and touching tale' —
Woman's Weekly

‘Overall, I felt that this novel was quite thought-provoking, showing how difficult it can be to separate fact from fiction, and leaving open the question of whether it may sometimes be best to live in a world of fantasy . . . I loved the odd stories that Meg's mother told her, and found parts of the story very moving. I was surprised at how positive and satisfying the ending was, too.' —
The Bookbag


First published in Australia and New Zealand by Allen & Unwin in 2012
First published as
in the United Kingdom in 2012 by Legend Press Ltd.

Copyright © Maria Goodin 2012

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian
Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

Allen & Unwin
Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, London

83 Alexander Street
Crows Nest NSW 2065
Phone:    (61 2) 8425 0100
Email:     [email protected]

Cataloguing-in-Publication details are available
from the National Library of Australia

ISBN 978 1 74331 286 5

Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


I would like to thank Lauren Parsons, Lucy Boguslawski and the team at Legend Press whose belief and enthusiasm made sure this book saw the light of day. I would equally like to thank Judith Murray for her passion, conviction and advice, Hellie Ogden for her work on translation matters, and all the team at Greene and Heaton.

I also owe my gratitude to Irene Smith whose sharp eye and intelligence helped iron out some early creases, and whose encouragement and excitement has been motivational.

Last but not least, I would like to thank my family for their constant support throughout life.

To Anthony


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 1

I came out a little underdone. Five more minutes and I would have been as big as the other children, my mother said. She blamed my pale complexion on her cravings for white bread (too much flour) and asked the doctor if I would have risen better had she done more exercise (too little air). The doctor wasn't sure about this, but he was very concerned about the size of my feet. He suggested that next time my mother was pregnant she should try standing on her head or spinning in circles (spinning in circles on her head would be ideal) as this would aid the mixing process and result in a better proportioned baby.

My father was a French pastry chef with nimble fingers and a gentle touch. On my mother's sixteenth birthday he led her to a cherry orchard and fed her warm custard tart under a moonlit sky. She knew it would never last, that his passion for short crust would always be greater than his passion for her, but she was intoxicated by his honey skin and cinnamon kisses. When they made love the earth shook and ripe cherries fell to the orchard floor. My father gathered the fallen cherries in a blanket and promised my mother that upon his return to Paris he would create a cherry pastry and name it after her, but he never had the chance. Four days after his return to France he was killed in a tragic pastry-mixing accident. The only part of him still visible above the dough was his right hand, in which he clutched a single, plump red cherry. Finding herself alone with a bun in the oven and no instructions, my mother set the timer on top of her parents' fridge to nine months and waited patiently for it to ping.

Throughout her pregnancy my mother suffered all manner of complications. She was overcome by hot flushes several times a day which the midwife blamed on a faulty thermostat, and experienced such bad gas that a man from the local gas board had to come and give her a ten-point safety check. Her fingers swelled up like sausages so that every time she walked down the street the local dogs would chase her, snapping at her hands. She consumed a copious amount of eggs, not because she craved them, but because she was convinced the glaze would give me a nice golden glow. Instead, when the midwife slapped me on the back I clucked like a chicken.

I want you to understand that these are all my mother's words, not mine. I myself am mentally stable and under no illusion that any of this ever actually happened. I have no idea what did happen during the first five years of my life because for some reason I can't recall a thing. Not a birthday party, not a Christmas, not a trip to the seaside… not a thing. I don't remember my first bedroom, the toys I played with, the games I liked. Perhaps people don't remember much from those first five years, but I'm convinced I should remember something. Anything. Instead, all I have to go on are my mother's memories, which in fact are not memories at all but ridiculous fantasies that reflect her obsession with food and cooking and deny me any insight into my early years.

Am I annoyed at her? Of course I am! I want to know how I started out in this world, who my father was, what I was like as a baby, normal things like that. But however much I ask I always get the same old stories: the spaghetti plant that sprouted in our window box on my first birthday; the Christmas turkey that sprang to life and released itself from the oven when I was two; the horse-radish sauce that neighed unexpectedly… I mean, what is all this rubbish? I'm a twenty-one-years-old and yet my crazy mother still insists on telling me idiotic stories like I'm a baby. She's told these stories so many times that she actually believes them. The story of her pregnancy is ridiculous enough, but you should hear the story of my birth.

It was the gasman's fault I came out under-done. He'd come to deliver my mother's ten-point safety certificate in person after taking a bit of a shine to her, and my mother had felt obliged to offer him a slice of her freshly baked date and almond cake. They were sitting having tea in my grandparents' kitchen when all of a sudden the gasman started choking. My grandfather, a member of the St John's Ambulance, jumped up and grabbed the gasman around the waist, and with a sharp squeeze freed the offending morsel of cake which flew across the room, knocking the timer off the fridge. At the sound of the ping I thought my time was up and started to push my way into the world.

Between them, my grandparents and the gasman carried my mother upstairs and laid her on my grandparents' bed.

‘The baby can't come out yet!' my mother kept shouting. ‘It won't be properly done!'

But done or not I was coming out, and so efforts began to make the labour as short and painless as possible.

‘Go and get some butter, Brenda!' shouted my grandfather to my grandmother, mopping his brow with his handkerchief. ‘If she eats a pack of butter the baby should slide out.'

But a pack of butter did no good other than turn my mother's skin yellow, so my grandmother suggested garlic.

‘The baby won't like it if you eat garlic. He'll want to come out for air.'

Consuming an entire bulb of garlic didn't force me out either, so my mother shouted: ‘Get some of that cake up here! We'll lure the baby out with the delicious smell.'

And so half a freshly baked date and almond cake was held between my mother's thighs and lo and behold I started to move.

‘It's coming fast!' screamed my mother.

‘Quickly Brenda, get something to catch it in!' cried my grandfather.

In the end it was the gasman who caught me in a heavy-based frying pan. By the time the midwife arrived it was all over, although she insisted on poking me gently with a fork and plonking me on the kitchen scales. She sniffed me and confirmed I was under-ripe, but as soon as she put me on the windowsill my mother took me down again.

‘She's my baby and she'll ripen when she wants!' snapped my mother. Holding me close to her chest she kissed the top of my head and proclaimed I tasted like nutmeg.

And so that's what I was called.


I'm travelling home for the weekend, if you can call it home. When my grandfather died three years ago my mother moved into the little cottage in Cambridgeshire where she grew up, the one where I was supposedly born, although I don't even know if that's true. The cottage suits her perfectly. Although it's not big, it has a long, narrow garden where my mother can indulge her love of growing fruit and vegetables. She grows potatoes and cabbages, spinach, peas, radishes, tomatoes, lettuces… and then there's all the fruit. Apart from having a small apple orchard at the bottom of the garden, she also grows strawberries, plums, gooseberries, raspberries... the list is really quite endless. She spends her time gathering and cooking all these ingredients, boiling things up in big metal saucepans, frying, stewing, roasting, baking, simmering, steaming. She makes stews, pies, tarts, casseroles, cakes, soups, sauces, sorbets; you name it, she makes it. I have absolutely no idea what she does with all this food, and whenever I ask her she's very elusive. It's my suspicion that a lot of it must get thrown away. The real enjoyment is in the cooking process itself, and what happens to the food after that is seemingly inconsequential to her. She's a flamboyant, reckless cook, throwing things around, chucking bits here and there, and leaving destruction in her wake. By the end of the day the kitchen looks like a bomb's exploded, but I'm used to it.

BOOK: The Storyteller's Daughter
7.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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