Dinner with Edward, by Isabel Vincent, is a memoir of the author’s friendship with an elderly gentleman who was the father of one of her long time friends. Isabel meets Edward shortly after the death of his beloved wife, Paula, who he was married to for sixty-nine years. She is invited to dinner at his apartment at the behest of his daughter who is afraid that her father is giving up on life despite his promise to Paula that he would make the effort to keep going for the sake of their two daughters, Valerie and Laura. Valerie tells Isabel, ‘He’s a great cook’. Perhaps it is this, or the fact that Isabel’s own marriage is unravelling. Whatever the reason, she agrees to the arrangement. It is the start of a mutually valued friendship.
Each chapter opens with the menu for dinner. Isabel and Edward usually meet over a delicious meal that he has put much thought, time and effort into creating. Also included are details of how Edward prepares aspects of certain dishes. Isabel keeps journals so is able to recount their many conversations over the years – during visits, phone calls and in letters. The pair are open with each other about issues they are facing. They also share stories from their past lives, thereby gaining better understanding of where they are today.
Both middle aged Isabel and nonagenarian Edward come across in this tale as generous and attentive. Each is willing and able to listen, whether or not advice given is acted upon. Edward is of his time and encourages Isabel to put effort into her appearance. She discovers that this can sometimes make her feel better about herself.
“The problem with too many women is their lack of self-worth.”
Isabel is not Edwards’s only friend. He invites many people to his apartment to share meals and conversation. Thus their dinners are not always à deux, although these are Isabel’s favourite. Edward is a raconteur but remains gentlemanly with his guests.
“We live in the age of communications but nobody knows how to communicate anymore.”
The book manages to share condensed histories of both Edward and Isabel without delving into too much gratuitous detail. There is warmth but also realism. Sometimes life becomes busy or illness must be dealt with. Isabel is not family but she is loved and valued by Edward. She comes to realise just how important a contribution he made to her busy life.
The passion and emotional sensation are reserved for descriptions of the food served. Preparation is never rushed and important details are adhered to. Each meal is a sensory experience to be remembered, as are the stories they are served with.
A delightful book about a friendship that accepts time passing, savouring without rushing and accepting that life cannot remain stationary. Edward knew that Isabel was writing about his life, thereby sharing his stories and outlook more widely. The reader will be reminded that even ordinary people are extraordinary if time is taken to ask and listen. How fortunate are those who find such a mutually trustworthy friendship.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Pushkin Press.