Chocolate Cake for Imaginary Lives

a collection of short stories

This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.

Buy this Book on

You must sign in to see if this title is available for request.
Pub Date 21 Mar 2022 | Archive Date 18 May 2022


“We all have imaginary lives, and if we are lucky we have a dish to go with them…”

So begins the title story of Genevieve Jenner’s debut short story collection, a ground-breaking anthology of magical realist food writing.

A Russian countess finds herself making borscht for her socialist Parisian neighbours; unknown office colleagues secretly exchange lunchtime delicacies and recipes via the work fridge; steak is cooked at midnight on a Friday to get around Catholic proscriptions; and a thrilling sexual awakening descends into a metaphor of tired sandwiches and squashed fruit.

Chocolate Cake for Imaginary Lives is a book that the sexiest celebrity chef you can think of would take to read in bed, cackling in private recognition—but not just because it’s about the role of food at the centre of our lives. It’s also about the place of women in the world, the messiness of life, and the joy of snatched moments in the midst of chaos. With a wit and frankness that combines vulnerability and strength, all wrapped up in a package of stories that speak right to the soul, Genevieve Jenner writes about real and imaginary lives with poignance and authenticity.

“We all have imaginary lives, and if we are lucky we have a dish to go with them…”

So begins the title story of Genevieve Jenner’s debut short story collection, a ground-breaking anthology of magical...

Available Editions

EDITION Paperback
ISBN 9781838498726
PRICE £9.99 (GBP)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (EPUB)
Send to Kindle (MOBI)
Download (EPUB)

Average rating from 24 members

Featured Reviews

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is a delightful collection of short stories!

Each story revolves around a recipe that you can actually make. Some stories are very short and others are a few pages long. The stories focus on senses and feelings and what it means to nourish ourselves. It's a clever collection and absolutely enjoyable read!

A great book whether you enjoy to cook or not.

Was this review helpful?

An interesting collection of short stories encompassing recipes from different countries, times and cultures. The stories are of varying length, some are very light and others need a little more concentration. The recipes within the book are not set out in a conventional sense but all can be followed despite the mixture of measurements which are companion to the country the story is taking place, some are completely flexible and others whatever is to hand.

Was this review helpful?

Chocolate Cake for Imaginary Lives by Genevieve Jenner is a stunning collection of short stories each centered around food, the preparation of the food, and, oh yeah, life. Most of the stories kinda sneak up on you while some whisk you away immediately.

What struck me about these stories was the ease with which I was able to relate to the characters. The people and places vary tremendously but through the one thing we all have in common, food, we discover so many other more subtle similarities.

And yes, there are several of the recipes that I intend to try. I found myself reading some of these stories (they are very short and lend themselves to wonderful oral renditions) to friends. Maybe because of where they are from, or a food they love, or the simple difference in wanting new variation in old dishes versus those who want "to eat the same exact thing every single time."

I would recommend this to readers of short stories, readers who like to have short options available when they don't have a lot of time, and any foodie who loves the story of a meal as much as the meal itself. I know based on comments from the people I read to that this will make an excellent gift for those who love food and food prep, but don't tell them what they'll be getting from me.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

Was this review helpful?

This book was an incredibly fun read. It perfectly captures the sense of fun and delight that comes with consuming food media like the Great British Bake-Off, or content from the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen at their cultural apex. The beautiful title is indicative of the author's wonderful handle on prose. The writing throughout is playful and evocative. The slim sections explore different foods, sometimes through vignettes, stories, or actual recipes. There are also sprinklings of food history as well.

Was this review helpful?

Decadent and delightful. A recommended purchase for collections where culinary fic and short story volulmes are popular.

Was this review helpful?

Chocolate Cake for Imaginary Lives: Genevieve Jenner’s Brilliant Short Story Collection

British author Genevieve Jenner‘s debut collection of food-related short stories – Chocolate Cake for Imaginary Lives (Deixis Press, March 2022) – promises a delectable and unusual reading experience for those seeking tales of the intersection of food and life. Jenner offers up 38 stories, some taking as long to read as mixing dry ingredients together, others equal to the minutes for cookies to bake, while a few allow time enough to concoct a chocolate cake from start to finish.

Writing in a style sometimes reminiscent of Laurie Colwin, with an occasional pinch of Angela Carter-like magic, Ms. Jenner tackles a wide range of comestibles, including “flips” native to the South, cheeseballs peculiar to the Midwest, a special borscht in Poland, and Jerusalem artichokes in starving wartime Paris. And although a few stories seem a bit uneven, all contain marvelous bits of humor and allusions to literary luminaries such as Dante and others of his ilk. Ms. Jenner reaches into all the corners of the globe and human nature in these truly thrilling stories.

Another rather unique aspect surrounding this collection lies in the way Ms. Jenner writes recipes. In other words, by not following tradition at all.

No, recipes weave threadlike through the text, with the sensuousness of silk in medieval tapestries, coloring scenes with gauzy steam, painting with puffs of flour, applying patina akin to kale. Kitchen ingredients drive the stories, as in the following excerpt from Low-Pressure Soup for a High-Pressure Situation:

There is going to be some form of soup. Peel and dice your onion and sauté that in a bit of olive oil. Add a few cloves of smashed garlic. At least three. More like six. We aren’t fragile people who feel uncomfortable in the presence of garlic. Let things soften. Now you will toss that into a pot with a peeled and chopped-up squash. (Or sweet potato. I know this is inexact but just accept this. Do I look like a wound-up television chef who wants to explain in numbing detail why you must have this many ounces? No. I am just a woman trying to make dinner and use up these damn vegetables.) Plus the carrot and torn apart kale. Toss it all in there. Chop up the cauliflower in a haphazard fashion. Just dismember that thing and put it in the large pot. (Side note, you can also do this in a crockpot.) Add some thyme, a bit of paprika, some salt, pepper, hey, even that tarragon looks fun. Oh look, you dig in the fridge and find a few green onions. Chop them up and add them in.

You will find yourself laughing quite often, little jolts of recognition popping up from time to time, as with the following story. (The word lutefisk did it for me here.) Just One, Since You are Offering weighs in at 608 words, but packs as large a punch as much longer tales:

As Betty Draper would say, “My People are Nordic.” Therefore I appreciate a good bar cookie. It goes well with a nice cup of coffee and a little commentary about how this isn’t too bad a deal. If the bar cookie is especially good you might say, “You could do a lot worse.” Ross cookies are rather popular in my family. They don’t require a great deal of effort and have a sort of pleasing simplicity. (After all, brown sugar and butter are involved.) … Then let everything cool for about half an hour. (This will allow you some time to talk about how the Sons of Norway are having a lutefisk feed. You may go, but they better have enough butter for the lutefisk because otherwise you won’t be able to eat the stuff.) Then cut the Ross cookies into squares. If you have some willpower (though if you like to taste creamed butter and sugar I doubt you are the sort of person to wait) you will wait until the cookies have completely cooled and then eat them up. You can bring them to coffee hour at church, potluck night at the Grange, or the book club that is really the sipping-wine-and-talking-about-The-Crown club.

Different, witty, filled with sly humor, at times irreverent, bordering on the noir, Genevieve Jenner’s Chocolate Cake for Imaginary Lives takes food writing, and writing in general, up a much higher notch than the usual grub.

So grab your coffee mug, fill it to the brim, then settle down for a most stimulating and satisfying read.

(Quotes used with permission from Deixis Press. Net Galley Advanced Reader’s Copy)

Was this review helpful?

I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

If, like me, you love food but occasionally find yourself uninspired, this is the book for you. It's not a recipe book, though there are recipes described within the stories. Technically you could successfully follow them, but it's not always the focus of each piece. The food is a setting for the emotions and relationships of the characters described - and the narrator.

This is a book that will make you crave every dish you've never eaten and long for all the ones you have. It'll inspire you to seek out unique ingredients in your local supermarket and pay closer attention to every dish you prepare. It inspired me to make rice pudding in a new way, no regrets there.

I have no real criticism of the book, I read it over the course of a week which is rare for me, but these are the type of short stories that are meant to be savored. It's something that I would re-read, and recommend to a friend. Each of the stories is as unique as their recipe focal point. I laughed, got teary-eyed, and even had goosebumps at one point (another reading rarity for me).

Favorite stories included: 'Dead Dove', 'The Borscht of Mirra, Magda, and Mimi', 'With Great Rage: How To Sorta Cook A Pot Roast', 'Sweetbreads and Scams', 'Faraway Scent of Pain', and 'Amour de Poulet on Rye'.

Was this review helpful?

It's hard to pin down exactly what this is. A collection of essays? A memoir? An unconventional cookbook? Whatever it is, it's entertaining reading. The author is funny and writes with a breezy, conversational tone that goes down easy. This is someone you'd be happy to be seated next to at a dinner party.

Meditations on life, death, work, sex, history, and politics are mashed up with recipes (presented in prose, rather than the usual list of ingredients and numbered steps) and somehow it works. As a good Midwestern girl myself, I had a particular fondness for the ode to Midwestern women and their cheese balls. Foodies and cooking enthusiasts would definitely enjoy this, but, really, anyone who likes a good story will have fun on this ride!

Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review!

Was this review helpful?

I adore Jenner's writing. It is smart, spiky and dry and doesn't shy away from the more difficult - and even venal- aspects of being a human with an appetite (and sometimes, not). I can't cope with pretty-pretty essays that are based around food so Jenner does not disappoint.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you, NetGalley, for letting me read this.

I'm not usually a short story person, but this collection was fantastic. I love Jenner's voice - it's dry and wry and somehow soothing.

This is a collection of short stories inspired by food. It switches between more conventional narrative stories to a kind of creative non fiction/recipe hybrid. There are recipes here I would definitely turn to. The stories are beautifully told - and the centrality of food makes absolute sense. Food is so entwined with all our experiences - childhood, love, friendship, parenting - everything.

I'm definitely going to re-read this. It's one to dip into on rainy nights.

Was this review helpful?

This was a pleasure to read from beginning to end.

I am always rather wary of short story collections. No matter how good. the author, it often feels like there are a few stories that are filler and there is also, often a sense of imbalance, where the stories are rather disparate and seem flung together.

This is absolutely not the case here. This is a perfectly realised, beautifully cohesive series of short stories about food, which were wonderfully written, wildly entertaining, funny and. charming.

They also made me very hungry.

Was this review helpful?

I absolutely loved this book. It's like taking a bite of your childhood favourite dessert. Warm to the core. It makes me feel somewhat melancholic and more accurately in french "Vague à l'âme". The relationships woven into the recipes are charming and witty. Just a lovely feel-good read.

Was this review helpful?

I wasn't sure I was going to make it past Dead Dove, but I'm glad I did. I love this book - its premise and execution. While, I would not have led with the dove story, after reading the others, it does have its place among these quirky narratives about food and life. I loved the title story and Jenner's musings about Italians, caffeine-fueled scandal, and channeling one's inner Fellini film. I laughed out loud while reading Unto You There Are Nibbles. While the "recipes" aren't formatted in a traditional way, they are cleverly written and invite readers to add our own imaginative twist to flavor the experience. The stories are funny, subversive, sweet, savory, and a little salty. The writing breaks the fourth wall in clever ways, and the readers can become part of the story - if we allow ourselves the escapist moment of an imaginary life.

I received a digital pre-publication copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I will also be adding a physical copy to my permanent collection upon its publication later this month.

Was this review helpful?

I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book was everything it promised to be! It was funny, it was charming, it was a series of love letters from people all over the world to food and the ritual of cooking. The first story is an absolutely perfect opening of strangers in an office sharing their culinary expertise and traditions with each other. From there the book alternates between fictional short stories and essays.

I loved the humor, the insight, and all the different recipes in this book! If you love food, not just eating food, but cooking, baking, admiring the ritual and history of food- this book is for you.

Was this review helpful?

“Chocolate Cake for Imaginary Lives,” by Genevieve Jenner (ISBN: 1838498729, ISBN13: 9781838498726), publication date 21 March 2022, by Deixis Press, earns four strong stars.

“Add a few cloves of smashed garlic. At least three. More like six. We aren’t fragile people who feel uncomfortable in the presence of garlic.” This book is a romping and tasty adventure across a wide swath of evocative people from continents and times that is best devoured by people who aren’t fragile and who relish imaginative writing…and the presence of great amounts of garlic in their lives.

The reader becomes a time traveler with the book being a culinary travelogue featuring a cornucopia of passionate experiences (some might call them stories, but then that would be an injustice) peopled by fascinating characters who seem immediately familiar as though generations of your family past and present were in one giant room. A kitchen preferably. No, definitely a kitchen—a very large, aromatic one, with brick floors and a large table in the middle of the room. Time worn. By many hands.

The author’s careful combination of words become unrivaled impressions, even sensory: “Her eyelashes flicked against the pillow she was hugging.” Her words beguile. Even bowls become more than mere fired clay, as the “Recipe for Disaster (How to Make Smug Muffins)” makes clear. These are deliciously flavored tales told with passion and commitment, even conclusions, judgements, and decisions—all fearlessly offered. It is a book showcasing the art of description, bringing forth laughter, wistfulness, or recognition.

Then, there is the brilliant “An Incomplete Guide to Drinkers of Some Black Teas,” which explains everybody. Of course, I couldn’t read, “Hopeful Frozen Dreams,” which was about blackberry rhubarb sorbet. Even though “sorbet” and “blackberry” were enticing, we all know the triangular leaves of rhubarb contain high levels of oxalic acid and anthrone glycosides, making them inedible and rhubarb the work of the devil. I want to live….and this book is for the living.

P.S. I just know the author would’ve been a great mermaid AND a great writer (though not with fountain pens).

Thanks to the publisher, Dexis Press, obviously a courageous and caring publisher, for granting this reviewer the opportunity to read this Advance Reader Copy (ARC), and thanks to NetGalley for helping to make that possible.

Was this review helpful?

Readers who liked this book also liked: