Book review: Heartbake, Charlotte Ree

A cookbook with memories the main ingredient.

Charlotte Ree mixes dating and baking into one big memoir of love.

At age 29, Ree had just left her marriage when the pandemic hit. Living alone with no appetite of her own except for single boiled eggs, for comfort she turned to cooking for others around her. 

Th author understood the impact of food from an early age. When her mother presented store-bought muffins as homemade ones just to impress her daughter, Ree saw how much the language of love can be expressed through the giving of food. But it was her husband that sparked the life-long interest in cooking.

Yet this commonality between them could not keep their 10-year relationship from falling apart, even after a stint in couples therapy. It’s only after she saw a personal psychologist that Ree found the courage in this safe space to leave the marriage, albeit as a shell of the person she once was.

After finally moving out with her own money, but nowhere to spend it during lockdowns, Ree treated herself with what brought her joy – food. 

She made friends with all her new neighbours, cooking for each and every one of them. She started with banana bread muffins, but swiftly moved to sharing homemade focaccia and trays of lasagne. (If only we all had been Ree’s neighbours in lockdown!)

As her new normal began to settle, Ree also began to test the water in dating pools. But finding the right combination was a complicated recipe. Dating apps ask us to present our best selves and, as a people pleaser, Ree impressed dates in the way she knew best – by offering the most delectable meals for her matches.

Although the saying ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’ is commonplace, it’s surprising that a relationship with many of these men didn’t work out. It’s a feast for the reader, however, to be brought into these dates in such a personal way. 

We taste the tomatoey, garlicky, oily spaghetti vongole with ‘Camo Pants’, feel the intimacy of grilling steaks with ‘The Rower’, discover fun and awkwardness over vodka pasta with ‘The Couple’ and delight in chocolate brownies for ‘The Ginger’, with plenty of comfort foods in between. 

Having already been through a marriage and divorce in her 20s, Ree clearly pursued relationships over personal growth. Finally, it was only at age 30 that she was able to grow on her own terms. Heartbake is a very raw and honest memoir, with a youthful naivety at times, about the trials and tribulations of dating and baking.

‘As I have grown older, I have come to understand that there are many kinds of love – a love for a parent, a sibling, a partner and a love for a friend. Each kind brings its own light and darkness – and heartbreak,’ Ree writes.

The recipes within the book correlate with the stories so, while cooking ‘Mama’s Spinach Pie’, you can’t help but feel that Ree is in the room with you. And if her ‘Burnt Basque Cheesecake’ doesn’t cure your heartache, even for the brief moment while eating it, nothing will!

Read: Book review: The One Thing We’ve Never Spoken About, Elfy Scott

This part memoir, part cookbook makes the reader want to get in the kitchen and start cooking up memories of their own.

Heartbake: A bittersweet memoir by Charlotte Ree
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
ISBN: 9781761067600
Format: Hard back
Pages: 336 pp
Publication date: 2 May 2023
RRP: $39.99

Lisette Drew is a writer, theatre maker and youth literature advocate, who has worked nationally and overseas on over 50 theatrical productions. Her play, Breakwater, was shortlisted for two playwriting awards and her novel The Cloud Factory was longlisted for The Hawkeye Prize. In 2022 she received a Kill Your Darlings Mentorship and was a City of Melbourne Writer-in-Residence. Lisette shares her love for stories and storytelling running writing and theatre workshops for children.