Monocle, a sous chef in a pub kitchen in London, details the events within the kitchen, and what the staff get up to during their time together.
Wroe’s description of the different characters are very well drawn. Racist Dave, Bob and Ramilov are the most vivid chef characters, but Monocle’s dad is also extremely easy to picture given Wroe’s writing.
Monocle never reveals his Christian name, but reveals a lot of his family background, which is dysfunctional and more than a little sad. His relationship with his father, who is the parent that Wroe writes the most about, is funny and sad by equal turns.
The closest comparison that I can think of this book having, is Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, as Wroe details eccentric characters that Monocle encounters during his time in the Swan kitchen. Racist Dave for example, is a fascinating creation, despite his racist views, as he is head and shoulders above the others in the kitchen, in terms of his cooking abilities, and is a devotee of musical theatre, something that surprises Monocle given that Racist Dave is a skinhead. Bob the overall boss of the kitchen, is some times a little sadistic in the way that he chooses to punish mistakes, it’s like Gordon Ramsay but taken to a very dark place. Wroe has Bob lock Ramilov in the fridge, for a minor transgression early in the novel, and there are other examples of extreme punishments.
Ramilov’s first description in the novel, includes the phrase ‘a dyed in the wool psycho, a universal soldier’, and his hands, something that Bob looks at before hiring his chefs, are described as being ‘fucking horrible’. He’s a unusual character to say the least, someone that I’ve not encountered in a novel before, fondling the fellow chefs during service, by stroking certain parts of their anatomy. He fondled ‘everyone in the kitchen except the dark eyed girl who he correctly guessed wasn’t a man and would stab him if he tried’.
There is a lot of humour, in the descriptions, despite some of it being black humour. The language is as you might expect, given the high pressure of the environment that the characters are in and the fact that there’s only one woman mentioned as being part of the kitchen staff on a regular basis, Monocle’s potential love interest.
It’s clear that Wroe has a lot of experience in working in kitchens, describing how the different chefs work, and is familiar with London. I love the way that he describes things, and people, using phrases such as ‘it was a crazed stump of hair and damaged tissue’ to describe Ramilov’s hand for example.
It’s a well written and funny book, that I would highly recommend if you are a fan of reading books based in reality, that have a strong seam of black humour, and are not offended by swearing.