Madame Bovary meets dead horses and ghosts

Sophie Mackintosh’s ‘Cursed Bread’ is a compelling mystery—although, in the end, it might be just a little bit too mysterious
March 1, 2023
Cursed Bread
Sophie Macintosh (RRP: £16.99)
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By choosing a historical mystery from 1951 as the setting for her third novel, Sophie Mackintosh has given her strange and intriguing imagination the opportunity to flourish. There is tension on every page. By moving the narrative backwards and forwards in time, the expectation of astonishment drives the plot. We don’t anticipate exactly what happens, but enough is trailed to widen our eyes.

Cursed Bread is a short, intense and highly literary psychological thriller. For the right reader it will be an engaging and immersive read. Think of it as having a Madame Bovary-style premise—in this case, a baker’s wife, frustrated with the restrictions of small-town life and a faltering marriage, becomes obsessed with a mysterious character called the ambassador and his wife, sophisticated but troubled new arrivals—only with added ghosts, bizarre suicides, dead horses, a somewhat unreliable narrator and an eerie tone. The tension often uncoils into the uncanny. 

To others, however, these same qualities may frustrate. The plot’s dreamlike suspense is, I found, well established but rather less well resolved. One or two points about the ambassador eluded me in the end, and the solution remained a little too mysterious—in a book this tightly controlled and dramatic, that niggles.

Since I read Mackintosh’s last book, Blue Ticket, I have been eagerly looking forward to this one. It has turned out to be quite a different sort of work—which, in a way, is a sure sign of her talent. So here I go again, happily anticipating what’s next.