Author Lottie Hazell on class, cooking and control
Ahead of the publication of her debut novel Piglet, author Lottie Hazell talks to us about domestic claustrophobia, method writing and her favourite food
Picture this: your wedding is coming up in just two weeks, your husband-to-be has just revealed a potentially relationship-shattering secret and to top it all off you are making your own wedding croquembouche from scratch (a pyramid of profiteroles bound together by caramel). As if weddings weren’t stressful enough!
This is the situation that the eponymous protagonist of Lottie Hazell’s debut novel Piglet finds herself in, and you can imagine the nail-biting story that follows. Going by the rather cruel childhood nickname of Piglet, she is trying to find her place in her fiancé Kit’s affluent family and prepare for a wedding, while grappling with her own strained family dynamics, a growing distance with her best friend Margot as life pulls them in new directions, and making her mark in the publishing company where she works.
"Piglet is a story of what Hazell calls 'domestic claustrophobia'"
At its heart, Piglet is a story of what Hazell calls “domestic claustrophobia”. The cataclysmic moment in the novel is Kit’s confession of a betrayal, the details of which are left intentionally vague. “What happens between Piglet and Kit isn’t really important,” Hazell says. “It’s the fallout on her life, the impact is the same regardless of what’s happened between them. The story is about Piglet’s journey, you know, can she be comfortable with herself? Can she detach from what other people think of her? I didn’t want to centre Kit.
“I’m also all about the loose ends and the bittersweet,” she adds. “I don’t want things to be all wrapped up! I’m not sure if there’s a happy ending, I don’t know what’s going to happen for Piglet next, but there is some feeling of release at the end.”
The first scene that Hazell wrote comes a third of the way through the book, the day after Kit has made his confession to Piglet, when she is making them a carbonara. “This scene came to me first. I didn’t know who these people were, or what had happened between them. But I was fascinated by this fraught domestic tension, and I wanted to know more. That was the seed that grew into the book—I find that perseverance of continuing to make dinner, continuing to put the shopping away, when something is really rusted in life just endlessly fascinating. I thought, There’s a whole book in this.”
Honing in on the home
To Hazell, the domestic sphere is the perfect place to explore bigger issues. “There’s this idea that domestic life is maybe small or irrelevant in literature, but it’s such a huge part of our lives, right, and I’m intensely interested in how we live together.”
The novel began life as part of Hazell’s PhD on women and food in 21st century fiction. How did this inform her work, creatively-speaking? “I was interested in the social and cultural lens on female bodies, and eating female bodies specifically,” she says. “That was a big academic question for me. In the book, Piglet has this preoccupation about being observed, what being seen eating means for her, how comfortable she is with it. And then, if it’s possible to use her body in a way that feels powerful. That’s fascinating to me, that eating in public for her can be empowering. So that kind of subversive femininity for me starts as something as small as that and goes to the extreme in sort of welding your body in a powerful sense.”
A word of warning—don’t read Piglet on an empty stomach! The book is full of richly-described passages about various meals that will have your tummy rumbling and your mouth drooling. Chronologically, the first scene in the book is set in a Waitrose as Piglet does some last minute shopping for a dinner party she is hosting. This choice of supermarket will come with symbolism for British readers, given its class and status associations, that lingers throughout the book as it explores the relationship between food and class.
Does Hazell think that where you shop says something about you? “I think it says something about what we think about ourselves,” she says after a thoughtful pause. “For Piglet, it’s part of her identity-building. What she thinks about Waitrose, what she thinks about eating certain things and serving certain things—it’s more of a question of self-judgement. It’s a question of how we piece ourselves together and how we perceive our value through the things that we consume.”
The kitchen and control
Throughout the book, Piglet uses food to try and take control of her identity. She makes lamb stews and baba ganoush from scratch to assert her place in Kit’s more affluent family, while avoiding pie and treacle tart to distance herself from her working-class roots. The kitchen becomes a landscape for control in Piglet’s world. She dominates in the kitchen, she is in charge of what is being cooked when.
I wonder if her role as the primary cook in her household is a commentary on the division of domestic labour in heterosexual relationships, but Hazell denies this. “It’s not something I was specifically trying to comment on in that regard,” she says. “For Piglet, there’s a sense of control for her in the kitchen. There’s a scene where she’s making porridge before they see Kit’s parents, and he offers to make it. She struggles to be static in that moment. The kitchen is a place of identity for her; in relinquishing it, it’s kind of a relinquishing of a sense of self.”
Piglet uses her kitchen to control how she is perceived: when she makes a Duchy chicken with Charlotte potatoes, she is the perfect host. When she makes her own wedding croquembouche, she is the unbelievable woman who can do it all. When she makes linguine with tomato sauce, she is, perhaps, finally herself.
"A word of warning—don’t read Piglet on an empty stomach!"
Hazell is something of a foodie herself—she goes to bed dreaming about what’s for breakfast and her favourite non-fiction books are all cookbooks (The Farm Table by Julius Roberts gets a special mention). She describes her process as “method writing”: “All the recipes that Piglet makes in the book, I made alongside her. The triumphs and challenges that she has in the kitchen were inspired by my own, which were a pleasure to do outside writing. Well, the croquembouche was not a pleasure. That was stressful!”
Hazell’s next project is another story of domestic claustrophobia, although, ever on-brand, she keeps the details a mystery. “If I talk about it too much, it’s like I scare it away,” she jokes.
The domestic sphere is as interesting to Hazell as a reader as it is to her as a writer. Some of her favourites at the moment are The Harpy by Megan Hunter, a book about motherhood that has a magical realism element and is “fascinating and scary and really wonderful”, and Boy Parts by Eliza Clark, which tackles the domestic sphere outside of the familial structure. “I really like the way [Clark] writes relationships between friends,” Hazell says. “I think that’s a legitimate part of domestic life as much as family or relationships are.”
We end the interview on a lighthearted note: if Hazell could only eat one food for the rest of her life, what would it be? This sparks some follow-up questions (“Can I have it in different forms or is it just one meal?”) before she settles on pasta. “That’s my ultimate comfort food. Pasta is so good,” she says.
Piglet by Lottie Hazell (Transworld, £16.99) publishes on January 25
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