Timy reviews The Arctic Curry Club, Dani Redd‘s debut Contemporary Fiction novel, published by Avon on December 9, 2021.
I received an eARC via Netgalley thanks to the publisher in exchange of an honest review.
|Series: standalone||Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Fiction|
|Date of Publishing: December 9, 2021||Trigger Warnings: mental illness, anxiety, mention of suicide|
|Page count: 400||Publisher: Avon|
‘For my whole life I had been looking for home. But why would that be in a place that I’d left? Perhaps I had to keep moving forward in order to find it…’
Soon after upending her life to accompany her boyfriend Ryan to the Arctic, Maya realises it’s not all Northern Lights and husky sleigh rides. Instead, she’s facing sub-zero temperatures, 24-hour darkness, crippling anxiety – and a distant boyfriend as a result.
In her loneliest moment, Maya opens her late mother’s recipe book and cooks Indian food for the first time. Through this, her confidence unexpectedly grows – she makes friends, secures a job as a chef, and life in the Arctic no longer freezes her with fear.
But there’s a cost: the aromatic cuisine rekindles memories of her enigmatic mother and her childhood in Bangalore. Can Maya face the past and forge a future for herself in this new town? After all, there’s now high demand for a Curry Club in the Arctic, and just one person with the know-how to run it…
A tender and uplifting story about family, community, and finding where you truly belong – guaranteed to warm your heart despite the icy setting!
“All across the world there were people who struggled to leave the house, to make doctor’s appointments, to hold down jobs. People who engaged in daily battles with invisible demons. Christ, it was exhausting. Frustrating, too. However much therapy you had, the anxiety would always be there, dogging your footsteps like a shadow. The only way forward was to find the humour in the weird shit you did.”
Okay, I admit picking Snow by Red Hot Chili Peppers might be a bit of a cliché, but this was what first came to mind when I tried to pick a wintery song, and I like this one, so, deal with it.
The Arctic Curry Club first came to my attention on Twitter as I saw a super cute promo banner from the publisher with a polar bear cub on it. I had no idea what the book was about, but I knew I had to read it. As it just went up on Netgalley, I went and requested it – despite the fact that food (especially Indian food) got a central part in the story, and that it was set on the Arctic. You have to know two things about me: I hate winter and I don’t care about food. At all. So, what could go wrong? I decided to trust my gut and give the book a go trying to set all of my prejudices aside. It was not exactly what I expected, but my instincts didn’t let me down this time around.
The book starts with Maya and her boyfriend, Ryan arriving at the Artic as Ryan got a rare opportunity to take part in research focusing on polar bears. Maya is absolutely out of her element as they arrived in the season when the days are equally dark as nights and the temperature is freezing all day round. It’s a big change after living in the UK. While she prefers staying inside and cozy up, Ryan is the outdoorsy type, enjoying all the adventures the Arctic throws at him. In an attempt to try to fit in, Maya takes on a job cooking for tourists at a cabin run by the rugged Mikkel and Adam with Rita helping out as well. Soon, Maya starts reconnecting with her Indian heritage through food, finding an unexpected link to her late mother. Which eventually turns her life upside down.
On the surface, The Arctic Curry Club is a heartwarming tale about adapting to your circumstances, finding your family – both literally and a home away from home – and how food can connect people no matter who they are or where they are from. But it’s so much more than that. It also deals with topics of mental illness (depression, anxiety), addiction, toxic relationships, trauma, etc. But despite the heaviness of these topics, they don’t crush the overall mood of the book or make it a slow read. On the contrary, it’s pretty hard to put it down.
“There was an old radio station, which had been converted to a luxury hotel, somewhere out there. And a Soviet ghost town. In Svalbard there was a rule that you weren’t allowed to demolish anything. Abandoned trappers’ huts, explorers’ camps, defunct mines – they were all still here, slowly degrading in the wind and being covered over by snow and ice. An archipelago of ghosts.”
Maya – from whose POV we see the events unfold – is very likable and relatable. She is half British and half Indian, although she left most of her Indian self behind when they moved to the UK when she was a kid. Losing all her memories before that time plays into it pretty much. She used to be a chef, but she doesn’t start cooking Indian food until she is asked to, and until she finally takes a trip to India – which is a huge change after the Arctic. What I found relatable about her is her constant battle with anxiety. There were many occasions where I was thinking “wow, that’s totally me”, although I never had such attacks as she does. Still, having something in common made it easy to connect to her. Plus, I really admired how she adapted to everything life kept throwing at her.
The Arctic Curry Club has a host of great side characters – I especially loved Mikkel and Adam and how their relationship was portrayed throughout the book. I also liked Jobin, a person from Maya’s past who is just such a sweet guy. Too bad he didn’t get more spotlight. Or more depth to his character, really. There were so many things packed into this book that some things got less attention than they should have gotten. On the other hand, it felt like there was just way too much description about the different dishes and what Maya was cooking – which, I think only was an issue to me. I was more interested in the characters and their relationships and problems than I was in the food. And in that regard, The Arctic Curry Club was a bit of a letdown.
And while we are at criticizing, I found the ending a bit underwhelming if I’m being honest. The book ended a bit abruptly for me, even though we get a quick recap of where some of the characters’ life ended up. Which was nice, but I still felt like something was missing. These are pretty much minor complaints, as I think The Arctic Curry Club is an ambitious debut novel. It has a nice balance between lighter moments and heavy topics and it’s great to watch Maya finding her courage and the power to take her life into her own hands. The ease with which Redd created these characters and images – both in the Arctic and India – makes The Arctic Curry Club a super easy and fast read. A perfect choice for cold winter nights to cozy up with a cup of tea.