Hot Stew: Britain, the Bard and the banality of sex

Book review: Fiona Mozley’s genre mixing novel pays homage to the Bard

 Fiona Mozley’s new novel is called Hot Stew. Her previous novel, Elmet, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Photograph:  Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

Fiona Mozley’s new novel is called Hot Stew. Her previous novel, Elmet, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

Fiona Mozley is a sensualist. Her Booker-shortlisted debut novel, Elmet, described the forestry of northern England in splendid, lush fecundity. The food was always succulent, textured, warm. “Sex doesn’t feature in Elmet,” Mozley told the Times Literary Supplement, “but it also appears on every page.”

In Hot Stew, sex features categorically – the novel’s epicentre is a brothel – and yet it’s not what we usually see in fiction. For the prostitute, it’s just a job. For a young couple, it’s subordinated to mechanics. Agatha, a business mogul and the novel’s villain, satisfies her needs through “younger, less powerful” men. When she fastens one to her bed, the author deploys a rare adverbial: “‘Kinky,’ he says, mundanely.” In Hot Stew, sex and sensuality are not one and the same.

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