I typed in my usual search (Douglas Jordan Dead Cave Floodwater) and one of the hits … was  a listing on a baby names website. Douglas (boy). Means. Dark Water.

Ever since then I’ve blamed myself and Gill, accidental prophets. I blame us for choosing a name that turned out to be a promise.”

– Gabe, The Cookbook of Common Prayer


Francesca Haig’s The Cookbook of Common Prayer focuses on the most awful of things, the death of a child and how the family, the Jordans, deal with it. Told from the alternating perspectives of parents Gill and Gabe, and their surviving children, Sylvie and Teddy, the story is an exploration of grief and the lengths to which we’ll go in order to survive the unthinkable.

Mother Gill is a food writer, somewhat ironically saddled with a daughter who refuses to eat. When son Dougie dies, Gill and husband Gabe make the decision not to tell Sylvie, worried about how it will impact on her already precarious health. Gill instead begins to write letters from Dougie to Sylvie, involving them and their youngest son, 11-year-old Teddy, in an elaborate web of lies.

It’s Teddy who’s the star of the book. He’s a ghost, pretty much forgotten by his parents, their attention focused on their grief and the welfare of Sylvie. Teddy’s quiet observations and poignant thoughts are eruditely expressed and it’s his gaze and insights that are for us the most interesting.

Food is important in the book, as the title suggests, the text littered with Gill’s recipes for dealing with momentous events and crises – a six-egg omelette for the day the police come to deliver the news of Dougie’s death, a bouillabaisse to deal with her fear for Sylvie. It’s a clever device which draws us in, giving us a more intimate viewpoint into the family and how they work as a unit.

The Cookbook of Common Prayer is a well-penned book, full of significant moments and realisations. The main characters feel honest, authentic, their voices clear, their love and suffering exposed to us. And despite the seriousness of the central plot strand, there’s also humour and light, even in the darkest of places.

At the heart of the book though is family in all its guises, how it endures, survives, evolves, grows. It’s a very engaging read, tightly written and well plotted – and it’s one that comes highly recommended.


The Cookbook of Common Prayer | Francesca Haig | Allen & Unwin | hardback and ebook | 3 June 2021 |

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Acknowledgements: All text quotes from the book © De Tores Ltd 2021. This review is published as part of the publisher virtual book tour. Many thanks to lovely Anne Cater for arranging it and to the publisher for sending a. review copy. The above photo is © The Literary Shed 2021. All views expressed are our own. All rights reserved. Please check out the other great reviewers on the tour.

See also:By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’; ‘Yvonne Battle-Fenton’s Remembered‘; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’; ‘We should all be feminists’; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”‘; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

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