Who believes in virgin births nowadays? Well, Xeni, for one, who is not as crazy as she sounds. Or maybe she is, but she also has this poetic quality that makes you want to see beyond the crazy. Delusions, religion, magic, they’re all interpretations of what is and what seems to be.
Brought up to become a good Greek wife to some Greek man, she’s rebelled by not marrying but is obsessed with the idea of having a baby and hopes God or the Virgin Mary will grace her with one. Then she meets Callie, the red-headed mother of a half-Greek child, hoping to convince the mother of her child’s father that she’s the right woman for him. Xeni agrees to teach her how to cook delicious Greek meals and in the process, the attraction grows between the two women.
The story is told from every character’s point of view (except the baby’s) but Xeni’s is the only one in first person and undeniably the preponderant POV. Interspersed in between the chapters are her recipes. They’re at the heart of her life and of the book, the skeleton that allows both to stand.
Those who know me know food is an important part of my life. To me, food is life and it is love, and sharing good food with people you love is one of the best things in life. Greek food is an important part of that important part. I was supposed to travel to Greece in a few days, to my father’s place, but we decided not to, because of corona. It’s okay, we’ll go later. Anyway, a book about Greek food and women falling in love sounded right up my alley.
I usually write my reviews as I read, but this one has been extremely difficult to put into words. I took loads of notes, had a whole lot of thoughts. Let’s be clear, I did not enjoy this book. The writing is excellent and I loved everything about the food, what it means, what it requires, how it is linked to everything that matters, the sensuality of the descriptions. The recipes were a nice touch too. The characters are complex and real. The storyline is original and surprising. This novel, however, made me way too uneasy most of the time I was reading it to make for an enjoyable experience. It sent my anxiety into overdrive. It seems it’s easier for me to read about serial killers than about good people struggling with mental health issues. I guess that’s a bit too close to home. There’s also one scene not far from the end of the book that I’m very uncomfortable with, for other reasons. Consent is paramount to me and while I understand the motivations of this scene, there’s a lot that feels really wrong to me.
And yet I don’t regret reading The Feasting Virgin for one second. It’s the kind of book that stays with you, for better or for worse. That makes you think. I understood a lot more about it when I read the acknowledgements at the end of the book. And I’m not surprised the author was awarded the Sandra Moran Scholarship. Following a debut like this isn’t going to be easy, but it will undeniably be interesting.