Wednesday seems to have become Frivolous Post Day on this blog. It’s the middle of the week, I don’t feel terribly food inspired, and MasterChef generally has a long episode on a Wednesday and eats my evening. Also, while I have two posts in mind for the next few days, both are waiting on further data before I can finish them. So frivolity it is, and I can think of few books more delightfully frivolous than Agnes and the Hitman.
Let me start by saying that the hitman is one of the saner people in this book, and is definitely saner, calmer and generally safer than Agnes. Agnes is happy in the most unpromising circumstances, provided she has people to cook for, but you really don’t want to annoy her if she has a cast-iron frying pan within reach. Since she is currently writing a food column and baking the cakes for a wedding, she always has a cast-iron frying pan within reach.
I completely love Agnes. Here’s why:
“This is my kitchen,” she said, an edge of hysteria in her voice, “and enough goddamn people have been shot in it. You are my family, you are the only family I’ve got, so you’re going to put those guns away and eat something right now. Or there’s going to be hell to pay.”
She slapped a loaf of bread down on the table and looked at them both, blood in her eyes, and J and F both hesitated. “You do not want me angry,” Agnes said, and they both nodded once, and like the unhappy, dysfunctional family they were, they put the guns away together.
Whenever I read that scene, I want to be Agnes when I grow up. And if I can’t be Agnes, I want to live near enough to her that she will cook me breakfast, because her breakfasts sound wonderful – pecan-studded pancakes with maple syrup, scrambled eggs, with peppers, Italian sausage, and lots and lots of butter in everything.
This novel could probably best be classified as romantic comedy. Though, as you might expect from a book with the word ‘Hitman’ in the title, the number of murders is fairly high compared to your average romantic comedy. As is the number of flamingoes, the number of people being fed, and the number of people attacked with pieces of kitchenware. It never quite reaches the level of slapstick – the bodies, after all, are quite real – but it does have that snowballing chaos that reminds me of the best screwball comedies, only with mafia assassinations and attempted dognapping and a huge wedding that needs to be organised and cooked for and prevented from turning into a pink-themed flamingo-fest. Or the scene of a mafia hit, because that would also be bad.
Honestly, this book is just an eternal fountain of pure, unmitigated, wonderful silliness that has to be read to be believed. And it’s full of Agnes cooking for her friends, for the wedding party, for the policemen who are trying to deal with the dead bodies, for the people who break into her house, for the hitman who is sent to protect her while attempting to carry out his own assignment, for his partner who is a licensed man of the cloth and really good at cleaning up bloodstains… for anyone, in short, who comes within her orbit.
It’s also full of Agnes making lists, attempting not to be swindled out of her house, and trying to manage her anger in a way that does not involve the inappropriate use of hot raspberry sauce and meat forks. One of the funniest things about this novel (and in case you haven’t gathered this, Agnes and the Hitman is a very, very funny novel) is Agnes’s ongoing inner conversation with her court-ordered psychiatrist, who encourages her to use physical exercise to defuse anger: “Running, Agnes, weight lifting, swimming… bowling, assault, battery… defenestration, castration…”.
Look, I just love this book, which makes it difficult to review, because I keep stopping to read bits of the book and getting distracted. It has flamingoes! And cooking! And, actually, a really lovely, laid-back, stable, reliable hero who happens to kill people for a living. I don’t know how the authors manage to sell this as desirable, but they do. They also wrote possibly the funniest sex scene I have ever read, and the only one I have ever read aloud to Andrew, because the first time I read it I wound up giggling so much and so loudly that he came in to see if I was alright. So naturally I had to share it (I’m actually fairly easily embarrassed, but it isn’t explicit and it is hilarious).
But most of all I love Agnes. I don’t have her temper (sometimes I wish I did), but her absolute need to feed people is something I know on such a fundamental level that I can’t help but identify with her. And somehow, this permeates the whole book – I don’t know how much cooking and eating there is in the book – though now I stop to count, I can think of at least seven occasions on which Agnes is feeding everyone in sight, but somehow the food and the cooking and the feeding of people permeate the book and make it the thing the book is about. I don’t know if that’s what the authors intended, but I suspect it’s exactly what Agnes had in mind.
The only problem is that now I want pancakes for breakfast, and my sourdough rye has just come out of the oven, so it’s going to be bread and jam. It’s going to be lovely, tasty, gorgeous bread and jam. But it’s not going to be pancakes, and that makes me sad. Maybe I can make them on the weekend?
You can buy Agnes and the Hitman from The Book Depository or from Amazon. And you should – this is not the height of literature but it is pure fun and the perfect thing to read to relax at the end of a long week. I think I’m about to read it again.