This book is a masterpiece. It is a short but powerful amalgamation of every literary technique all writers of great genius exploit to the maximum. Romance (both moral and immoral), humor (both satirical and plain) and tragedy (both ephemeral and evolving) are neatly blended into a fluid tale of what it really means to be an author.
The protagonist, Dr Ashenden, describes his transition from meek teenager to medical student to under-appreciated author. In fact it is difficult to pin-point who the protagonist is. An argument can be made that the narrator of the story (Ashenden) is not in real fact the protagonist but rather Rosie and Ted Driffield combined. Rosie is obviously the epicentre of the romantic aspect of the book – a role she played rather well – while Ted is the oasis of intellectualism which I always find refreshing in a proper book. Intellectualism is actually given in double measure, the other being the wild intellect of the young author Ashenden. Rosie somewhat comes in the middle; she is Ted’s promiscuous wife who Ashenden had an affair with – along with a whole train of other men of course.
Ted’s second wife only plays an auxiliary role in the story. Alroy Kear is a powerful character created by a sound mind fighting against vanity. He is a self-but well-groomed author who takes pains not to offend anyone and an embodiment of what the author obviously hates in other authors of similar nature. I found it interesting that the publication of the book raised a huge furore in the literary world as it was widely viewed as an attack of Thomas Hardy in the form of Ted Driffield. I think the critics were just intimidated by the wit and beauty of the book so much that they felt such a work of art would not come purely from an abstract mind without contemporary influence. I will come to a defense of the author at this point. It is a fact that no book has ever been written from an abstract mind. A story is built on a skeleton formed by experience and knowledge. The skeleton in this masterpiece happens to be that one woman every man has buried in the inner closets of his past and never wants to see. That skeleton is Rosie and she is hidden in a cupboard called Ashenden. Ted and the other authors were just the flesh that covered the beauty of this literary classic.
Cakes and Ale is by far the best literary work of fiction I have read this year. I highly recommend it.