Author: Stephanie Danler
Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect)
My Bookshelves: Contemporary, Food, Wine
Dates read: 3rd – 14th December 2019
5th sentence, 74th page: No change in temperature arrived.
Tess is the 22-year-old narrator of this stunning first novel. Moving to New York, a place at the centre of the universe, from a place that feels like ‘nowhere to live’, she lands a job at a renowned Union Square restaurant and begins to navigate the chaotic and punihsing life of a waiter, on and off duty. As her appetites awaken – not just for food and wine but also for knowledge and friendship – Tess becomes helplessly drawn into a dark, alluring love triangle.
Sweetbitter is a novel of the senses. Of taste and hunger, of love and desire, and the wisdom that comes from our experiences, both sweet and bitter.
From the cover, the title and the blurb on this book, I was expecting something that was kind of sweet and easy. Sure, a little bit lustful. But overall? A nice, easy, sweet read. Man was I wrong. This was kind of dark, didn’t really have that hopeful feeling I was expecting. And really lent more towards the bitter end of the spectrum than sweet. But it was also brilliant and next to impossible to put down.
As someone who has worked on and off in hospitality for the past 13 years, there was a lot about this story that was completely relatable. I may not have ever worked in such a nice establishment (country pubs, tiny cafes and small wineries being my area of expertise), but the requirements and draining aspects of service… yup. I get that. And it made me very, very, very glad that I recently left the industry. I’m hoping this time forever… but I said that last time too…
One thing that I really didn’t have in common with Tess in this story was the sex, drugs and alcohol. It was one of the most relatable insights into this world and excess that I have ever read. I may push the boundaries a little, but I don’t have anything to do with drugs and even that level of alcohol consumption is off my charts. So it was intriguing to read a story that didn’t make it seem cool or great, but also didn’t completely condemn the practice either. Very intriguing. Which is probably why, even when I wanted to reach through the pages and tell her to get out of the whole she was digging, I couldn’t stop being fascinated by Tess’s choices.
I thought that Sweetbitter was an incredibly interesting title when I grabbed this up. I only got it because it had a wine glass on the cover, and I needed that for a reading challenge… but, regardless. After reading this, I completely understand where the title comes from. Although I mostly felt seriously uncomfortable about this story, and understood the bitter aspect… there were moments of incredible sweetness of self and a great sense of understanding of self at the end of the journey. It wasn’t hopeful, it wasn’t a great journey of self-discovery, but it had this idea of sweetness at the very conclusion.
I’ve always struggled with the fact that people think I’m pretty before they bother with my personality. I’m pretty sure that like Tess, I’ve probably been offered jobs based on this. But I’ve never wanted to trade on my physicality. It was intriguing to read a story with a heroine, not much younger than me went completely the opposite direction. She actually chose to trade on her looks, and ignore her own mind. That is, until she realised that she could have both. Something I’m still trying to figure out…