A heartfelt work of fiction, The Kitchen Front transports you to the English countryside amid the harrowing backdrop of World War II. Yet, despite the many hardships of war, this tale is not without hope. In an attempt to distract those on the home front from the horrors of war and help housewives make the most of rations, the BBC launches a cooking contest – the grand prize being a job as the first-ever female co-host.
Jennifer Ryan’s illustrative style, albeit heavy-handed at times, places you firmly in the shoes of four distinct women, each with different struggles, resentments and dreams, all desperate to take home the prize, certain it will free them from their unfortunate circumstances. The intertwining journeys of Audrey, Gwendoline, Nell and Zelda serve as a refreshing reprieve from the brutal portrayals of life on the front line – typical of most World War II fiction – instead, gently addressing the shockwaves the war sent through longstanding societal standards, from the shift in gender-based expectations to the breakdown of class structures.
The inclusion of genuine wartime recipes pulled from the Ministry of Food’s archives lends to the novel’s authenticity. This serves to counter some of the work’s more unrealistic plot points, like a love affair with an overly optimistic prisoner of war. The food itself becomes a living, breathing character, at times bringing more depth, spice and flavour than the women themselves. Although it would have been nice to see the protagonists fleshed out a bit more, and the end comes as a surprise to no one, the novel does stay true to its primary focus: celebrating the importance of friendship. In a time of uncertainty, this is overall a wholesome and comforting read.