He always laughed more after surfing. His body was loose, his shoulders relaxed. He’d be tired, but somehow filled up from the inside. His hair thick with salt, dried crispy; the whites of his eyes pink; the skin on his hands tanned from the sunlight reflecting off the glassy surface of the water. And that was how he disappeared. Feeling like a fish, feeling like himself, like nothing and everything, caught in the lick of the ocean, a giant tongue that drew him in and swallowed him whole. It wanted him for itself.
I’m a little bit in love with this book. I started reading it on a day when I was feeling unwell, miserable and generally annoyed with the world.
It did occur to me that a story about a young woman whose fiancé is killed in a surfing accident while she’s still planning their wedding vows might not do much to improve my mood.
I was wrong.
I was soon happily sucked into the peaceful, lilting language that Hannah Tunnicliffe uses to paint the rich, cool forest that Frankie runs away to after Alex’s funeral.
‘What’s it about?’ asked a colleague.
‘Um,’ I paused. We’d just been talking about Mazerunner and comparing notes on the Divergent trilogy; books vs movie. ‘Not much. But everything. It’s more of a journey. Except she doesn’t go anywhere.’
And it is a journey. It’s a story of grief, loss and reunion. But mostly it’s a story about life, and life doesn’t have a neat plot.
Frankie Caputo runs away to be alone but her big, raucous, nosy and loving Italian family follows her. And feeds her.
Her estranged sister, Bella, camps on the front door step and refuses to leave. Residents of the forest befriend and look after her. And feed her.
The local police even show up when her dodgy cousin’s impromptu party gets out of control (they don’t bring food: just in case you were wondering).
Family secrets are revealed, relationships are shattered, others are mended.
I loved this book for the beautiful language, the 3 dimensional characters and the way it blasts apart all the usual clichés of the grieving, young almost-widow and what happens next.
I’m a little thrilled to have Hannah Tunnicliffe, the author of Season of Salt & Honey, on the blog today.
Q & A with Hannah Tunnicliffe
Q: Italian food, familial strength and almost suffocating care wraps itself around Frankie’s grief in the story. You credit some ‘real-life Caputos’ with helping you out with the cultural aspects of the novel but I notice you also spent time travelling Europe in a campervan yourself. Did you spend much time in Italy?
A: Hi Rebecca, thank you so much for having me! Fortunately for me, my friend spent a few seasons as a walking guide in the Dolomites (Italian Alps) while I was living in London, England so I visited her several times and took happy detours to neighbouring Venice. These short trips were the antipasti for my love affair with Italy.
I visited again when I travelled in “Fred” (the campervan you mentioned) and completed a short Italian course with my parents when I was younger. In fact my entire family are Italophiles: my grandfather served in Italy during the war, my Dad went to Italy to learn the language, my kids call my Mum “Nonna”.
I am very keen to return to Italy with my husband and daughters, particularly to explore more of the South.
Q: ‘…all Alex’s empty shirts on hangers in a neat row. Shirts missing a body.’ This was such a strong, original image which haunted me throughout the book. Does the imagery flow easily from your pen, or is this something you come back and edit later?
A: Thank you, it is wonderful to hear that feedback! Imagery, yes, that does seem to flow quite easily but other aspects I find more challenging. Writing is one of those wonderful-aggravating things that can make you feel so joyful at times and so irritated at other times. You know, like…small children and life partners?? 😉
Joking and grumbling aside I can honestly say, hand on heart, being a writer is the best job in the world (for me) and I feel truly blessed to have it.
Q: In her grief over her fiance, Alex’s, death, Frankie escapes to a tiny cabin in the rich, earthy Washington forest. Frankie has a sister named Bella. I once read a little book called Twilight which is also about a girl named Bella who lives in the Washington forest… though I notice there are definitely no vampires in your novel (and it’s infinitely better written!) What inspired the setting of Season of Salt & Honey?
A: Ah, yes, that little book, I have heard of it!
The setting for Season of Salt and Honey was directly influenced by my time living in Vancouver, Canada. While living in that city we explored some incredible Pacific Northwest Coastal rainforest (Lighthouse Park, Bowen Island, Lynn Canyon etc) and I read fantastic local poetry and prose about these precious, sacred places.
I imagined that the dark, cool and quiet sanctuary of the forest is exactly the kind of place Frankie, the protagonist, would escape to, to contemplate her grief, life and future.
My eldest daughter was born in Vancouver and holds a Canadian passport so we’re hoping she might give us reason to keep returning. It is a beautiful part of the world.
Q: I love the delicious-looking chef-created recipes peppered throughout Season of Salt & Honey. Though I’m not much of a cook myself I’m certainly a foodie and would love to have a go. Would you rate them as easy, intermediate or difficult to make?
A: All of the recipes in the book were created post manuscript completion so I have only included dishes that were already referenced in the story. Luckily that list of recipes is a real mix of easy and more complicated, vegetarian and meat – eating, sweet and savoury, Italian and American. At the risk of sounding clichéd – there is something for everyone.
An easy one to start with is the recipe for Nzuddi – small almond biscuits to serve with espresso. The most difficult aspect of this recipe is chopping all the almonds and you can use a food processor for that if you prefer. The biscuits aren’t too sweet and they store really well (for when you have unexpected guests / unexpected biscuit cravings).
Q: You live in New Zealand with your husband and two daughters. I’m hoping you can give me some insight – what is it that makes N.Z. Sauvignon Blanc so incredibly tasty at the moment?
A: Great question! I had to consult my uncle, Keith Tunnicliffe, for a fuller explanation for you. He is much more of a wine connoisseur than I am. Here’s what he had to say:
‘First of all NZ Sauvignon Blanc isn’t just tasty at the moment – it has always been very tasty. Intense on the nose and the palate and this tends to make it unique. A typical Marlborough Sauv Blanc (where the best Sauv Blancs originate) leaps out of the glass with mostly gooseberry, passion fruit and other tropical fruit aromas and flavours.
‘But why is it like that? Lots of factors in combination I think:
‘1) Marlborough has a very high number of sunshine hours but relatively low daytime temperatures (24C avg) during the wine growing season. This results in long steady ripening.
‘2) It also has quite cold nights during the growing season with a big range between day and night temperatures.
‘These two factors lead to high natural acid and sugar levels in the grapes which are then fermented slowly under cooling to retain the intense flavours.
‘In addition, the soils of the region are mostly river gravels which are not very fertile so the vines have to struggle – this tends to reduce cropping and intensify flavour too. There are lots of stones on the surface of the vineyards which hold heat and raise the temperature of the vineyards helping grapes to ripen fully.’
There you go, you learn something new every day!
Very warm wishes to you and all your readers,
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Disclaimer: I received a copy of Season of Salt & Honey, at no cost, for the purpose of review. I was not paid for this review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links – I will receive a small commission if you purchase after clicking on links to online bookstores. There is no extra cost to you.