Books

A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G Summers: a delve inside the mind of a monster

A middle-aged food critic in New York harbours a secret in this vividly transgressive debut novel

Image: Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

‘Transgressive’ is a tricky word to define in terms of fiction. But however you do it, the word conjures up ideas of pushing boundaries, breaking certain societal and perhaps moral expectations, taking things that little bit further. A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G Summers certainly dabbles in this area, and is a superbly refreshing read as a result. 

This is the American author’s debut novel, but Summers is an experienced journalist and non-fiction writer, and her delightful turns of phrase in this novel are obvious evidence of that fact. 

The antiheroine of Summers’ story is Dorothy Daniels – a middle-aged food critic based in New York who has always had a voracious appetite for everything in life.

The book opens with her picking up a young man for sex in a hotel bar. Her delight in her own sensual pleasure and her taste for ultimately selfish adventure are hints towards Dorothy’s secret.

As the book progresses, we realise that the story is being narrated by Dorothy from prison, looking back on her unique life. It transpires that Dorothy wasn’t just picking up random men for sex – she was killing them, and then consuming some of their remains.  

A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G Summers is out now
(Faber & Faber, £8.99)

The details of this stuff are not shirked at all, so the book might not be for some of a more delicate constitution, but it is to Summers’ credit that she manages to keep the reader on board with her monstrous creation.

A Certain Hunger brings to mind similar novels which ask that the reader go along for the ride with a central monster seemingly lacking in empathy – Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho and John Niven’s Kill Your Friends spring to mind.  

But what makes this story so delicious (sorry) is the gleeful abandon of Summers’ writing, coupled with Dorothy’s passions and appetites. As a food critic, Dorothy’s way with words is languorous and visceral, and the descriptions of violence and cooking are equally vivid and eye-watering.

Summers is obviously equating her central character’s sexual and literal appetites, comparing the excesses of both into the bargain.

It is a subversive joy to be in Dorothy’s company for this wild ride, and A Certain Hunger is compelling, funny and shocking in equal measure. 


You can buy A Certain Hunger from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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