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Cursed Bread

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Member Reviews

The ARC version was a bit hard to read to do the amount of spelling errors that kept taking me out of the story. So I wasn’t able to finish but I did but an actual copy and the story was sooo interesting. Sad the ARC wasn’t a bit better edited!

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Uniquely told story, mostly focusing on the strange relationship between a bakers wife and the Daisy Buchanan-esque mystery woman who shows up in town, and how this leads to a strange mass poisoning. It reminded me a bit of Otessa Moshfegh’s work though it succeeds more thoroughly in having a climax. That being said, I definitely wanted more from it. Stronger character development, better descriptive writing, something to elevate it beyond what it was.

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Sophie Mackintosh shines once again with her unique style of slightly speculative, sometimes dystopian, always feminist fiction. Elements we came to know and love in her previous works are very much present here too: a mysterious setting with little world building, a slow burn plot, focus on female characters, deliciously suspenseful atmosphere.
What initially drew me in was the real life inspiration behind the book - a case of mass hysteria that overtook an entire town. It was the promise of witnessing collective madness, so far unexplained. I have to admit this promise was not fulfilled in a satisfying way. The book focuses on a very private kind of madness between the four main characters, and more specifically between our narrator Elodie and the woman she's obsessed with.
What transpires between them is worth reading though. An intense game of cat and mouse filled with desire, lust, jealousy, power imbalance, manipulation and sapphic undertones. Unnerving, tantalizing and lushly written, Cursed Bread gets under your skin.

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Am I lost? Am I also poisoned and in the midst of a fever dream? Had I not known the general plot of Cursed Bread going into it, I would've been entirely lost, but knowing a bit about the history it was based on, helped...but only slightly. The entire novel read like a confusing and hazy trip down memory lane, only made worse by an unreliable narrator and duplicitous characters with unclear intentions. Surprised by the end of it that it had been longlisted for the Booker and felt as if I had missed something..

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Well this was sexual frustration. Literary. The whole book is about being sexually frustrated, and as a reader being sexually bothered the whole time. Will she do it, and with who. And why? Are they going to be caught, are they interested too? And then the end happened and I don't know how to feel about it.

It's hard to review this book. It is a historical fiction, and a look into an everyday life of a French town that is trying to build itself up after the war. But the relationships aren't clear. And we only get one POV, of a very frustrated and sexually obsessed woman. She focuses on Violet. Not only wanting her, but also watching her, observing her, pretending to be her. She is obsessed with Violet's husband, and tries to place herself as Violet in her fantasies. And then she's obsessed with her own husband, who is not interested in her completely. We don't get a whole picture of why, so I felt kind of bad for Eloise the whole time. Until I didn't. But also in the end, I did.

Not sure completely what happened in the end, and maybe that's why the book didn't leave me completely satisfied. *pun intended* I've read her previous book, Blue Ticket, and it stuck with me for being weird but still very much made me think. So I expected weirdness from this book as well, but the mental unraveling I think overtook this book too much.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

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In a fictional retelling of an actual, historical event, Sophie Mackintosh casts an alluring, entirely-consuming spell over the reader as we recount the events leading to the fateful summer of Le Pain Maudit, or the cursed bread. Elodie, the wistful wife of the town baker in post-war France, is drifting complacently, almost absently, through her daily life and finds the arrival of two strangers to be just the conjunction to bring back her appetite for more than what she settled for. Almost intentionally spiraling into obsession over the two newcomers, Elodie wishes to insert herself directly into the lives of this mysterious, wealthy couple. The story that unravels, told only with the kind of clarity hindsight allows, is one of desire; desire for the flesh, the crumbs; the desire to be filled, yet ultimately, still left wanting.

Mackintosh uses language so rich, so atmospheric, that the reader is transported at once into the heart of this gothic mystery. The characters, all cryptic and elusive, slowly crawl their way under your skin until you find yourself raising an eyebrow at everyone introduced on the page. There is an ever-present darkness looming around every stone corner, Elodie herself professing there is no happy ending to be found here – or, is there?

This is a most exquisite example of a slow burn that leaves the reader no choice but to turn page after page, despite any confusion that may occur before those few final words. Elodie is a personal favorite kind of narrator, obsessive, lurid, and unreliable. For fans of novels that read like a fever dream, this one’s for you. Thank you, NetGalley and Doubleday for my advanced digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

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"Nobody, at the beginning, believes they will debase themselves for love. Nobody believes in anything else but joy."

Cursed Bread is a tale of violent obsession and the narrow line between hatred and love. Narrator Elodie is infatuated with Violet, a wealthy housewife who recently moved to town. Neglected by her own husband, Elodie focuses all of her sexual frustration into her obsession with Violet. As she and Violet get closer, Elodie covets every aspect of Violet's life, eventually hoping to become her.

Sophie Mackintosh is undoubtedly an incredibly talented writer. Her ability to create settings and characters is evocative and dreamlike. Cursed Bread, as a story, had a strong start with its unsettling and unreliable obsession narrative. Yet, as it progressed, I felt that something was missing. The entire narrative alludes to and builds towards a climax based on a real-life mystery. But the execution of that climax was rushed. I know that we, the readers, were only ever able to know as much as Elodie herself. However, the vagueness of the characters' motivations ultimately left me somewhat unsatisfied.

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This is a book about obsession and centers on the real unsolved mystery of the 1951 mass poisoning of a French village.

Our story follows Elodie, the wife of the village baker. Elodie is bored with her simple life. She becomes taken with Violet, the fancy cultured wife of the Ambassador. They recently arrived in town and Elodie finds herself enraptured by them. As Elodie begins to recall the events leading up to the mass poisoning of the village, her reality begins to blur and her imagination takes hold.

This was a fever dream for me. It bounces around a lot. While I found the story very intriguing, keeping up with it was challenging as the storyteller's reflection was disjointed. It's erotic and strange, but I was invested in what was happening.

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Elodie, the baker's wife, becomes obsessed with Violet, who has moved to the village with her affluent husband the Ambassador- and then everything falls apart. It's an unusual novel, told in part through letters written by Elodie to Violet, where nothing and everything seems to happen until- the end. Much of the writing is lush (a tad more than I like). Is the bread cursed, as the Ambassador warns? Mackintosh has based her relatively slim novel on a real mass poisoning that occurred in a French village in 1951. She brings it to life, that's for sure. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. For fans of literary fiction.

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A fictional take on the 1951 mass poisoning of the small French village of Pont Saint Esprit, Cursed Bread by Sophie Mackintosh is an atmospheric, complex and hypotonic novel that reeled me in and kept me hooked till the very last page. The end will leave you a tad unsettled but I guess that is the author’s intention. Stunning prose, flawed characters, and uneven structure create a claustrophobic yet gripping reading experience.

The story revolves around Elodie, presently widowed wife of a village baker who recounts the events leading up to a mass tragedy that occurred in her village. Elodie, the baker’s wife leads a monotonous life, selling bread, gossiping with the other village women while washing clothes and being ignored by her husband whose passion for baking was markedly more pronounced than his romantic interest in his wife. The arrival of a new couple, the affluent Ambassador and his wife Violet, create ripples in the village. Elodie is taken with Violet, and though initially, Violet ignores Elodie’s attempts at engaging her in conversation, Violet and the Ambassador befriend Elodie and her husband. The story is presented to us in flashbacks from the perspective of Elodie with an epistolary element in the form of letters she addresses to Violet interspersed throughout the narrative. The novel primarily revolves around the complicated dynamic between Elodie and Violet, or more precisely Elodie’s obsession with Violet – she oscillates between awe and envy and as the narrative progresses her sense of reality blurs. Much of this stems from her monotonous life and lack of physical intimacy with her husband. Violet’s motivations are initially unclear - she claims to be lonely, and shares intimate details of her relationship with the Ambassador alternating between treating Elodie like a confidante and at times being deliberately elusive creating an aura of mystery that confuses Elodie and further fuels her obsession, leaving her susceptible to both Violet’s and the Ambassador’s manipulations.

This is my first Sophie Mackintosh novel and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future. Many thanks to author Sophie Mackintosh, Doubleday Books and NetGalley for the digital review copy of this novel. This novel is due to be released on April 4, 2023.

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Thank you to @netgalley and @doubledaybooks for an eARC of Cursed Bread by Sophie Mackintosh. This book is atmospheric, disturbing, and depraved, but it is also well-written. From the first pages, we are plunged right into a woman’s obsession. The narrative switches back and forth between her current existence and her memories of the fateful year when a couple moved to a small French town and the town collectively went mad.

Parts of this were too creepy for me, but the writing had many moments of insight and some great lines about desire, evil, and the longing for human connection.

Even though this was a really short book, the content ended up feeling repetitive, the character ruminating on the same twisted fixations while the plot slowly crawled along. The writing style was memorable, but the plot and characters just didn’t capture my heart the way they have in the 3 other #womensprize long list nominees that I’ve read so far.

My final verdict is: an interesting book but not one I would recommend to most people.

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3.5 stars

This is my third Mackintosh novel, and while it isn't my favorite from the list, I'm still so glad I read it. True to form, Mackintosh plays with form, narration, and readers' minds in this compelling piece of historical fiction.

The historical impetus for this novel is one I had never even heard of prior to reading the synopsis: the unsolved mystery of a mass poisoning in a French village in 1951. Where is the streaming documentary for this?! Bring me Wild, Wild French Countryside, please. IYKYK.

While we wait for that pipedream, readers can enjoy the rich inner life of Elodie, the resident baker's wife. Elodie's characterization is an absolute highlight of this novel. Being in her mind feels very claustrophobic in a uniquely appealing way. Her behaviors and thoughts are quite unusual, in some cases, so it's helpful to see the progression of how she arrives at certain choices and realizations. She's exactly the kind of character whom one can imagine is both easily manipulated and easily manipulates. In many ways, her experiences and her thoughts metaphorically poison her, so the question of different kinds of deaths and different kinds of mind and body altering states also becomes a fascinating touchstone for readers to consider.

Although there are some structural elements that work great with the theme but not as well for me as a reader, I still really enjoyed this journey and remain a huge fan of Mackintosh's specific appeal. I'd recommend this one not just to folks who enjoy historical fiction but who can appreciate the *literary* features of this author's work.

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One unfulfilled woman with no self-esteem attaches herself to a strange new couple in this small French town. Through her eyes we see the pettiness and jealousies that make up daily life. The writing style is pretty much train of thought so fantasy and reality became confused. That describes me at the end of this novel: confused. I was obviously not the target reader.

Thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday for the ARC to read and review.

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Cursed Bread is a special little story that had my head spinning. This is the type of book where you sit back after finishing and wonder what the heck happened. And I loved every second of it.

Elodie lives in a small, sleepy town with her husband. They live seemingly normal lives; Elodie tending to laundry with the other women, and her husband at the helm of the town bakery. Although at times she tries to convince herself otherwise, Elodie's marriage is slowly decaying, and she finds herself desperate for something more. When a new couple moves to town, Elodie's wish for "more" might very well be granted. After an evening at the new couple's housewarming party, Elodie's curiosity for the newcomers turns to an all-consuming obsession.
Jumping between the past and the present, Elodie recounts life after the new couple's arrival, the events that led to her entire town collectively losing their minds, and the horrifying truth behind their demise.

The way this story was written, was intensely unsettling (in a good way). It was atmospheric, poetic, disturbing and raw. I felt like I was tiptoeing where I shouldn't be, reading something that was meant to stay private. Elodie and Violet's relationship was so eerie and fascinating, teetering on that line of loving someone, hating someone, and wanting to be them at the same time. This was a story that perfectly depicted not only the violent upending of an entire town, but also the quiet and terrifying way that one woman's desire ultimately led to her own self destruction.

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Reading this I was reminded of the haunting, sometimes nauseating atmosphere of dread that hung around her first novel, “The Water Cure”; if some novels are dreamlike, others are much more nightmarish. That isn’t to say that “Cursed Bread” is really horror of any sort, but reading the novel it seems impossible to escape, from the get-go, the terrible events that are to come. Probably my favorite of all three of her novels, Sophie Mackintosh’s “Cursed Bread” is a fictional speculation as to what might have caused the 1951 mass poisoning of the French town of Pont-Saint-Esprit. The title, importantly, comes from the name given to that event, the French “Le Pain Maudit.” Mackintosh’s narrator, Elodie, is the husband of the local baker and becomes enthralled by the beautiful and mysterious young couple that sweeps into the town suddenly, an American man referred to only as “the ambassador” and his wife, Violet. Elodie is a woman unraveled by her unremitting and unfulfilled desire (her husband seems almost entirely apathetic to her existence) and accordingly the writing of that desire is excellent throughout. The dynamic that unfolds between Elodie, the ambassador, and Violet is a constantly shifting mixture of envy, desire, love, and hatred. The thrill for me of reading Sophie Mackintosh has always been my deep enjoyment of her prose on a sentence level, and there are so many beautiful passages to be found here: the language is lyrical and expansive. Beautiful writing I will no doubt return to.

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In traditional psychoanalytical theory, desire is always described as lack. Even if you get what you want, desire will never be extinguished because it is inherently about yearning, not actual possession. And yet, despite the empty promise of a desire being fulfilled, we are all willing to do so much (including destroying and humiliating ourselves) for the sake of our desires, or rather to prostrate ourselves at the feet of the object of our wants.

Sophie Mackintosh's "Cursed Bread" is precisely about that: the destructive/self-destructive power of our desires, especially the desire to be an object of desire. When the elusive Violet and her nameless husband arrive in a small-but-unnamed French town, they rattle the dynamics of its seemingly happy community, the baker's wife above all. As if awoken from a slumber, Elodie recoils to find herself not unhappy, but full of desires that ricochet around her, leaving her vulnerable not only to her wants, but to Violet and her husband and their twisted games.

Mackintosh is a master of atmospheric writing. There is a sense of foreboding from the very beginning, as a now-widowed Elodie writes Violet letters that warn the reader this story does not have a happy ending. The dynamic between Elodie and Violet is fascinating, a great foray into that classic "Do I want her, or do I want to be her" that propel the story forward, as you are both repulsed and fascinated by Elodie, her lack of boundaries, her impulse to mythologise, to construct worlds, to be so certain that desire makes things more obvious to her, while in fact all it does is obfuscate reality.

This is an interesting book that I would like to return to with the ending in mind. There were moments, little clues that point to another truth than that of an unreliable narrator. I think a second reading will be required.

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Cursed Bread is my first Sophie Mackintosh novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a little slow to start, and it took me a while to figure out what was going on, but once it got going, I was completely immersed in the strange dynamics and bizarre daily life that was developing. It was an odd, mysterious, fever-dream-like story. It felt like Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse, The Witch) meets David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Lost Highway). It was not exactly what I expected, but it was a lot more fun and weird despite being very dark and disturbing.

I was left with a few unanswered questions at the end, which I assume was the author's intention. I believe it was intended to feel more like a strange dream in which you can't always place what happened when you wake up, leaving you with these fragmented and sometimes unsettling memories to piece together. Thanks very much to Doubleday and Netgalley for an ARC!

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I really enjoyed the feel and descriptions of the book but I felt like it needed more of a connecting thread. There wasn't a lot of meat to the narrative and it made it difficult for me to get into. I think I'm more of a plot than vibes person.

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Cursed Bread is a watercolor painting of a book. About a little French village that suffers a mass poisoning by bread, it is told in dreamlike sequences, where it’s difficult to tell what’s happening and what isn’t. What’s in the present, what’s in the past. You are able to differentiate only barely, with the aid of Elodie’s inner monologue. It’s saturated with desire and neglect, as well as painful feelings about aging . In short, I enjoyed this book very much but I have no idea what happened.
Social media review to be posted soon.

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Cursed Bread has everything you could want in a literary fiction novel …

A woman entangled with a couple who just moved into the town & a mysterious madness caused by spoiled bread. It’s one of those books where you just wait in anticipation for the other shoe to drop & I couldn’t put it down. I really loved this & can’t wait to properly add it to my selves.

Pub date : April 4, 2023

“Still reeling in the aftermath of the deadliest war the world had ever seen, the small town of Pont-Saint-Esprit collectively lost its mind. Some historians believe the mysterious illness and violent hallucinations were caused by spoiled bread; others claim it was the result of covert government testing on the local population.

In that town lived a woman named Elodie. She was the baker’s wife: a plain, unremarkable person who yearned to transcend her dull existence. So when a charismatic new couple arrived in town, the forceful ambassador and his sharp-toothed wife, Violet, Elodie was quickly drawn into their orbit. Thus began a dangerous game of cat and mouse--but who was the predator and on whom did they prey?”

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