Reviewed by Katya Rara
By Lara Williams
304 pages. G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Roberta has spent most of her life trying not to take up space. Now in her late twenties, she’s been content to drift through life writing flavorless product descriptions for a fashion website—that is, until she meets Stevie, a rebellious, spirited young artist. Stevie brings back Roberta’s love for life and cooking, inspiring her to form a supper club. But Roberta doesn’t want to make a regular one—she wants to make something bigger. “What could violate social convention more than women coming together to indulge their hunger and take up space?” she asks.
Supper Club opens up Roberta’s life to a host of unique, interesting women, all with their own stories, who are looking not for something different, but for something more. But as the club grows, Roberta has to confront her growing needs and desires—and those that were neglected long ago.
A slow unfolding
Supper Club takes us back and forth in time between the formation and growth of the Supper Club, and Roberta’s past—glancing over her childhood growing up next to a cemetery and the fleeting ordinariness of school, and lingering on her life at university, where, finding herself lonely and isolated, she starts cooking to occupy her time.
Roberta is a jumble of insecurities, and Williams’ immersive writing ensures that you feel all of it. Even when Roberta is difficult to like, it’s easy to relate to her anxiety and hesitation, her fear and self-loathing. But while women don’t need to be likable or relatable to be valuable as characters or people, reading Roberta, and feeling like I truly saw her, kept me turning pages, marking them, and returning to them over and over again. I felt like I was seen—and it’s not often that a book can do that.
Striking writing and storytelling
Williams writes masterfully, with an eye for detail: the imperfections of the human body, insights into human behavior, the grit and non-glamour of everyday life. Her characters feel like they’ve lived full lives, like they’re still in flux—making me marvel at how Williams captured their heart, and heartbreak, with such clarity and precision.
The novel also shines when Williams puts food center stage. Supper Club is peppered with recipes and beautifully written ruminations on making and devouring food. And while these passages are proof of Roberta’s culinary expertise, they’re also a window into the intimate, emotional connection she has with it.
The politics of food and women’s bodies
Though Supper Club doesn’t sound like the title of a book about subversiveness, supper clubs—underground restaurants that prize creativity, authenticity, and genuine interactions among strangers—are a pushback against the stuffy staleness of traditional dining. (A form of rebellion, if you will.) Williams weaves this new definition of supper clubs together with Roberta and company’s rebellion against the patriarchy—and the convergence of their newfound appetite for discovery, their wild, joyous hedonism, and their stripping away of inhibitions works seamlessly.
Supper Club sounds like a dream, but Williams makes it clear that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum; while the women indulge in secret, becoming larger by choice, the world continues to condemn them. But the novel tackles the thorny, often taboo subject of women’s bodies and society’s entitlement to it unflinchingly, with the nuance and respect such a personal yet political topic deserves.
A feast for the senses—and the feelings
Williams’ brilliant debut is many things: It’s atmospheric and visceral, cutting and beautiful. It can be lighthearted, then heartbreaking; at turns, warm and cruel. In one word, it’s powerful, and so compelling I couldn’t put it down.
What Supper Club isn’t, is an easy read. Without going into detail, it touches on difficult topics such as sexual assault, trauma, and self-harm, on top of feminism, fatness, and the challenges of making your way in the world when you aren’t sure of who you are or what you want from it. But it is ultimately a story about finding yourself, discovering what you deserve, demanding it, and facing your fears along the way—perhaps not fearlessly, not just yet, but with forgiveness.
Supper Club is available at Fully Booked branches and Fully Booked Online. Get a copy here.
Katya has had a torrid romance with fiction for over two decades, and sneaks out in the middle of the day for clandestine rendezvous in cafés. She works in advertising and has four poodles. You can find her on Instagram @katerinarara.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]