Cursed Bread – Sophie Mackintosh

Published By: Hamish Hamilton
Pages: 192
Released On: 02/03/2023

Elodie is the baker’s wife. A plain, unremarkable woman, ignored by her husband and underestimated by her neighbours, she burns with the secret desire to be extraordinary. One day a charismatic new couple appear in town – the ambassador and his sharp-toothed wife, Violet – and Elodie quickly falls under their spell. All summer long she stalks them through the shining streets: inviting herself into their home, eavesdropping on their coded conversations, longing to be part of their world.

Meanwhile, beneath the tranquil surface of daily life, strange things are happening. Six horses are found dead in a sun-drenched field, laid out neatly on the ground like an offering. Widows see their lost husbands walking up the moonlit river, coming back to claim them. A teenage boy throws himself into the bonfire at the midsummer feast. A dark intoxication is spreading through the town, and when Elodie finally understands her role in it, it will be too late to stop.


I’m not one to usually buy books on an award longlist just because they’re on there, but when the Women’s Prize 2023 longlist was announced, there was something about this one that jumped out at me and I can’t quite put my finger on it.

It’s quite short, but longer than a short story, which makes it perfectly formed for me.

From the blurb, it sounded like a familiar story but with an unrecognisable edge to it. Or that was my thought when I read the synopsis. In fact, it’s not like anything I’ve read before. Which turned out to be a negative.

It has no speech marks and I really don’t like books that do that. I’ve tried to like it, believe me. I’ve read book after book without speech marks, just to try and see it as this interesting literary technique, but I just can’t get past how much it annoys me when you can’t tell if someone is speaking or if it’s just scene description. Other people say it helps it to flow, but for me, it’s the opposite, as I’m forever re-reading bits that I didn’t know were conversation.

I can’t figure out the time period or the setting. It felt modern but then it talked about characters’ husbands fighting in the war, so I’m guessing it’s set in the fifties maybe.

There is this weird erotic undertone through the book that, for me, feels completely out of place. It’s never fully embraced, not is it just mentioned. It’s made enough of it to be prominent, but it doesn’t fit with anything else in the book. It just seemed really random. I’m not a prude by any means, but the way it’s handled in this book made me feel uncomfortable.

It’s hard to follow. There doesn’t appear to be much of a narrative, you just seem to be reading an amalgamation of words floating about with no real link to what came before or what followed. As the blurb says, there’s dead horses, hallucinations, boys jumping in bonfires…it was just all too many random things that didn’t link or make any sense to me.

I can see it was based on a true story, but for me, it didn’t match up. Even the small amount of information I could find online about the true story felt more interesting than this. It almost felt like the author found this story, took the bare minimum about it, and proceeded to write nonsense for 200 pages.

I admit that none of the characters stood out for me. None of them were likeable, and yet none of them were real villains. They were all a bit flat. I’d rather really despise a character than just feel a bit ‘meh’ about them.

Once I’d finished, I couldn’t really explain what had happened. The ending wasn’t satisfactory. The random interspersing of letters within the narrative didn’t make sense and it felt jarring. It was an interesting idea but I don’t think very well executed. I can’t see the highlights that saw it make the Women’s Prize longlist. It felt a bit too confused and haphazard, and too conscious of it’s self importance.

All of this made a 200 page book feel so much longer. A book this short I should have been able to read within a couple of hours, but it took me three days as I felt it was such hard work to get through.

One thought on “Cursed Bread – Sophie Mackintosh

  1. It’s my opinion that most books on award lists are totally putdownable. I wonder whether the judges work according to the Emperor’s new clothes idea – how to say we don’t understand this book! So give it an award. 😂😂

    Liked by 1 person

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