Fiction – hardcover; Dutton Books; 355 pages; 2005. Review copy courtesy of the author.
Carrie Kabak’s Cover the Butter is a warm, funny and poignant novel which charts the life of Kate Cadogan, a “lost” housewife trying to make sense of her past and present.
Kate’s story spans the 1960s to the 1990s, covering the turmoil, both good and bad, of her transition from inexperienced teenage girl to worldly wise forty-something mother.
Central to the story’s emotional impact is the relationship between Kate and her Irish mother, Biddy, whose moods swing in unpredictable and hurtful ways – one minute tender and loving, the next heartbreakingly cruel. Coupled with a weak-willed father, who succumbs to his wife’s domineering ways, the Cadogan family is a complex mesh of pain and devotion, humour and heartbreak, unfulfilled expectations and adoration.
It’s this very complication that ties Kate in knots: she never seems to be able to break free of her parents restrictive and confidence-sapping chains. And when she marries her self-centred, emotionally distant and just a little bit pompous husband, Rodney, the escape she once dreamed of is anything but.
Fortunately she has strong friendships, rooted in a shared childhood, and two doting Welsh grandparents to whom she can turn. But even so, there are some secrets that she keeps to herself, the pain of which, to this reader at least, seemed so real I could feel the aching grief resonate off the page.
It is Kabak’s ability to capture the entanglement of human relationships in such a very real way that makes Cover the Butter such a powerful read. What I loved so much about this book was the immediacy of the writing, which seems effortless and seamless. The prose is stripped back and unadorned, but this is not to the detriment of atmosphere or emotion. If anything it adds to it. Kabak has such an eye for detail that she can convey the very essence of a scene or an emotion without wasting a word.
In many ways, Cover the Butter reads like the book that Maeve Binchy and Joanne Harris might have collaborated on: friendships, family, romance, food and travel all rolled into one. I loved it, and felt genuinely sad when the story came to an end, I had wanted it to go on forever.