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Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant – Anne Tyler

When I saw this book sitting on the library shelf, I knew I would borrow it.  I had gone in just to return, and I was absolutely not going to borrow anything else so I could catch up on the neglected books sitting on my shelves.  But there is nothing I like more than a quirky title, and so I found myself unable to resist.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is the story of the Tull family.  The matriarch of the family, Pearl, is dying at the beginning of the book.  We are then taken back through the family story from the departure of her husband and her decision not to tell her children Cody, Ezra and Jennie.  She adapts when he leaves, taking a job in the grocery store to support her family and trying to do the best for her children.  But they never talk about the fact that their father is not there any more, and Pearl often cracks under the strain of raising a family alone, flying into violent rages.

The departure of the father and the fact that they never talk about it resonates throughout the whole of the lives of Cody, Ezra and Jennie, each of whom are affected in a different way.  Cody is angry and bitter – he resents his mother and his brother Ezra, of whom he is intensely jealous.  Jennie flits from husband to husband, eventually settling down and becoming step-mother to 6 children.  She is unable to take anything seriously and brushes off the problems faced by her eldest step-son.  Ezra is the owner of the Homesick Restaurant, which serves street food and comfort food, just like your Mum would make.  He never manages to make the break from home.  He is the good hearted, easy going, pushover.  He just wants to bring his family together and is constantly trying to arrange family meals at his restaurant, all of which inevitably end in disaster.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is one of those books which is very much character driven rather than plot driven – I would struggle to say exactly what happened in the book, but the characters are compelling enough to keep the pages turning.  Cody is probably the most challenging character within the book because he is so destructive – he has such bitterness towards Ezra and such jealousy that it would be easy to make him into a complete villain for everything that he does to the lovable Ezra.  However, Anne Tyler has written him very sympathetically, so even when I was getting frustrated and annoyed with Cody, I still felt quite sorry for him as you can still see the frightened and confused little boy that is in the heart of him.

This is the first time that I have read anything by Anne Tyler and I will definitely read more by her in the future.  I really enjoyed how she was able to portray her characters so that we can view them objectively at the same time as being allowed to see how they view themselves.  I also loved the concept of The Homesick Restaurant.  This book was originally published in 1982 and it is so ahead of its time – The Homesick Restaurant would be absolutely bang on trend now with its street food and home cooking.

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