Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Chop Chop by Simon Wroe • contains 288 pages • published by The Penguin Press on 17. April 2014 • classified as Black Humour, Contemporary, General Fiction, New Adult • obtained through Edelweiss • read as eARC • shelve on Goodreads
The thing about reading debut novels is that you never know what to expect. This abyss of the unknown is exacerbated when you have the privilege of reading a review copy. While not knowing can be disconcerting to some readers, I think it is precisely that which heightens the thrill of a book. In the case of Chop Chop, the element of surprise is crucial, so if my review comes off as vague, I apologize.
Fresh out of university with big dreams, our narrator is determined to escape his past and lead the literary life in London. But soon he is two months behind on rent and forced to take a menial job in the kitchen of The Swan, a gastro-pub with haute cuisine aspirations.
Mockingly called “Monocle” by his co-workers for a useless English lit degree, he is thrust into a brutal, chaotic world full of motley characters. There’s the lovably dim pastry chef Dibden; combative Ramilov, who spends a fair bit of time locked in the walk-in fridge for pissing people off; Racist Dave, about whom the less said the better; Camp Charles, the officious head waiter; and Harmony, the only woman in a workplace of raunchy, immature, angry, drug-fueled men. Worst of all is the head chef, Bob, who runs the kitchen with an iron fist and an alarming taste for cruelty.
But Monocle’s past is never far away and soon an altogether darker tale unfolds. As the chefs’ dreams of overthrowing Bob become a reality, Monocle’s dead-beat father shows up at his door, asking for help. With The Swan struggling to stay afloat and Monocle’s father dredging up lingering questions from an unhappy childhood, Chop Chop accelerates toward its blackly hilarious, thrilling, and ruthless conclusion.
One of the main draws of Chop Chop for me was the protagonist’s profile. He was in his early twenties, fresh out of university, trying to find his place in the world. Monocle, as I came to know him, had a strong voice that was uniquely his. After the first few pages alone, I already had a good sense of the kind of person he was. His expression contained so much snark, it stood out against his innocent demeanour. The crudeness of his co-workers in the kitchen offered an unlikely juxtaposition between them and this graduate chasing literary greatness, thereby combining a myriad of world views.
Chop Chop portrayed the very real struggles of someone desperately holding on to make ends meet. Too proud to return to his parents, Monocle rather faced impossible tasks that were thrown his way than admit defeat. It was the witty narration that hooked me, so that I even read portions of the book that had me squirm uncomfortably. That is the nature of black humour. No matter how twisted a situation, the discomfort of indulging it anyway is lessened because the humour seemingly removes you from the warpedness of it all.
Simon Wroe definitely knows how to spin a tale. His characters in Chop Chop were vivid and colourful despite the dark and dreary circumstances they were in. Wroe masterfully captured the complexity of personalities, constantly smashing stereotypes. I particularly appreciated the presence of Harmony. She asserted herself wonderfully amidst the testosterone-filled kitchen, existing not for the sake of romance but as an essential fixture in and of herself.
Readers looking for New Adult books that aren’t confined to romance might just find what they are looking for in Chop Chop. This books fills the gap well, and I can only hope to find more books that deal with the plights of twenty-somethings today.