When Ross Campbell introduces Andie as his “current wife”, it’s the beginning of the end. After all, Andie was the “other woman” long before she became Ross’s wife, and if the old adage about leopards and spots is anything to go by, Ross is unlikely to reform his ways.
Andie, though, has kept as low a profile as possible throughout her decade of marriage, having done enough rocking of the marital boat to last a lifetime. Kowtowing to Ross’s petulant whims is the simplest solution for all involved, and one suspects that for Andie there’s some subconscious self-flagellation occurring as well. Perhaps the most illustrative example of this is that when Ross objects to Andie’s working odd hours in the high profile fine-dining field, she instead narrows her goals to managing a deli. A deli owned, incidentally, by Ross.
But though Andie has her qualms about her relationship with her husband and about the life she’s found herself living, it’s not until she sees evidence of her husband’s infidelity in the very naked flesh that she is forced into action—and reflection. The exigencies of being single once again see her reliving pivotal moments in her life: she seeks the advice of Ross’s wife, Joanna, in doing so contemplating her roles as both wife and mistress; a stint at the home of her culinary school friend Jess sees her reliving her youthful dreams of becoming a chef.
For Andie, though, more life changes are afoot: the breakup of her marriage is compounded by the sudden death of her father. This, though, is a turning point, as she finds herself living once more in her childhood home and poring over the well-worn lovingly annotated cookbooks of her grandmother, who first sparked her love of cooking. With no one to question her motivations or challenge her actions, Andie sets about finally realising her dream of working in a professional kitchen.
But a clean break isn’t so easily managed, and Ross continues to insinuate his way back into her life. Obligation and responsibility rear their crushing heads, and Andie also finds herself faced with the decision of pressing on down a path fraught with challenges and possible failures, but where she’s her own agent, or the more familiar approach of stepping back to allow others to act on her behalf.
With The Secret Ingredient Dianne Blacklock has dished up plenty of food for thought, and with her excellent characterisation and warm and humorous prose, it’s thoroughly palatable indeed. However, the back cover blurb and weighty, epicurean-inspired cover are somewhat misleading: though no fault of the author’s, readers may be surprised by the novel’s light prose and relative lack of gastronomic emphasis.