New Welsh Review

Delicacy: A Memoir about Cake and Death

Katy Wix

Ed Garland gobbles up this rigorous, crafted and very funny exploration of the links between cake and human distress by the Welsh comedian and Ghosts actor

PUBLISHED ON: 28/02/23


TAGS: body dysmorphia, comedy, food, grief, memoir, nonfiction, strongly recommended


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Katy Wix thinks cakes are ‘weird, camp objects’ that ‘represent everything that is false and cloying’. This bold claim appears in Delicacy’s first few pages, and it made me hope the book was going to demolish the entire concept of cakes, as a sort of down-with-patisseries equivalent to the well-known anarchist pamphlet Abolish Restaurants. But the expected demolition job doesn’t occur. Instead, Delicacy is a rigorous exploration of the links between cake and human distress. Bereavement cake, trauma cake, psychological turmoil cake – they’re all solidly constructed in 278 pages of unsweetened prose. It’s also very funny.

The first chapter starts with a quote from Marguerite Duras. It’s a confusing one, because it says something about mothers and strangeness that just isn’t true, but it’s also a useful one, since it makes us wonder if Wix might care about sentence-making the same way Duras does. And as the memoir progresses, there is a noticeable sense of Duras-like compression. Wix has a gift for the laconic jab and the disconcerting image. A couple at a hotel breakfast table were ‘slab-faced and pink, like a pair of lungs’. A twenty-first birthday cake looks ‘aggressively happy’. She sees a man in the gym whose ‘eyelids looked muscly, like he smashes protein into them’. She also shows us pangs of subtle tedium, like those moments when life seems ‘nothing more than […] putting things in bins, yawning, and emailing’. The compact sentences and vivid glimpses of strange details create an atmosphere of edgy alertness. Thus Delicacy avoids the cloying texture of the average hard time memoir (though cliches like ‘painfully raw’ and ‘brutally truthful’ appear on its cover. As if a memoir is both a talking wound and a site of hazardous honesty. It might cause us some pain, but for our own good.)

Each chapter orbits a different kind of cake, and is given a pleasantly odd title, like ‘Low-fat Cakes, Or, Being Thin in Capitalist Spaces with Your Mum’. The stories within take a variety of forms: dialogues, emails, letters, lists, and weird vignettes, like the synopsis of an imagined sitcom in which a divorced man disguises himself as ‘a three-tiered Bundt cake’ and sits outside the house of his ex-wife. The cakes Wix encounters are vehicles of communication. They are baked and bought and offered in relation to varieties of harm that are all brought to the page vividly, without sentimentality. Cake becomes a strange villain, moving between the centre of events and their periphery, sometimes appearing casual and sometimes ceremonious.

Frequently, Delicacy views cake as the substance of self-loathing – the sugary nexus of body image anxieties and eating disorders. Wix’s accounts of these experiences have a matter-of-fact authority, in which she demonstrates the lifelong psychological consequences that can emerge when adults comment on children’s bodies. She spends a lot of time examining the events in her childhood that complicated the pleasures of eating. There’s also a regular supply of fine observations, like ‘when you were tiny, you were treated like food: placed inside the trolley amongst all the shopping.’

The episodes that describe the deaths of her parents and her closest friend, in quick succession, are extremely moving, both because of their restraint and because Wix is so rigorous in her observations of her own thoughts and feelings. While she is sitting in the room where her mother is dying of cancer, she thinks about whether she’ll ‘be asked to go on Celebrity Bake Off once this book is out – the stand-up-to-cancer one.’ This kind of honest observation of her own thoughts is one of the features of Delicacy that make it a pleasure to read. She is equally honestabout things like how it can be annoying to go out and spend time with your friends, or how it is frustrating to deal with your family’s habits of communication. She describes how she would walk behind her father, and that she became ‘good at reading the back of his neck. I would know when he was in the mood for play and when I should be quiet.’

Besides all the death and injury, there is an attempt at positive thinking, in a chapter called ‘Aftercake’. Here there’s a welcome admission that ‘being positive can come across as really creepy if you’re not careful’. It would be good to hear more from a writer as astute as Wix about why this should be so (negativity can be creepy too, but maybe less often described in that way, and more often wrongly identified as ‘realism’). Her positivity is convincing because it is thoroughly rooted in experience. Her writing in Delicacy is not painful or raw or brutal. It is careful, luminous, and creatively formed.


Ed Garland’s nonfiction book is Earwitness: A Search for Sonic Understanding in Stories (New Welsh Rarebyte, 2019).