Delicacy: A Memoir About Cake and Death

Delicacy is an examination of what it’s like to grow up as a tall, clever, quiet, funny woman in the UK. Katy Wix shares moments of trauma from her adolescence and adulthood and explains how cake has become associated in her mind with the awfulness of life. Cake is ever present, as a treat, a comfort, a distraction. It’s often eaten in stressful circumstances. Possibly more often than it’s eaten simply for pleasure.

This might not seem like an engaging premise, but Katy Wix is one of the funniest women in comedy and handles her subject matter well. When Paula mentioned her memoir in a recent Winding Up the Week I was straight on the library catalogue and put in a reservation. I love Wix’s beautiful, heart-rending performance as Mary in Ghosts, the pathos of her portrayal of Carole in Stath Lets Flats, the awkward need to be liked layered over deep kindness in her characterisation of Jules in Big Boys, and was delighted by her insouciance on Taskmaster. Her stand up slot on Live From the Moth Club was exquisitely weird. Now I’ve read her memoir, I understand better the deep well of experience she draws from in these performances.

If you don’t know Wix or her delivery style, this book might be a tricky one to get into. Wix has a pared back way of expressing herself. In her performances, there are glances and small gestures. In her writing, there is just her deadpan voice. It is revealing, though, and brutally honest. Wix draws on the therapy she has had, and is coldly open about the awful way that women are treated and expected to smile and take it as a joke.

As a teenager, Wix realised the power she had over men thanks to an encounter with a lecherous adult male who demeaned his wife in public and, after Wix ruined the punchline to his joke just because she could, used his physicality to threaten her. His words were pathetic, though, revealing a truth about bullies – that they cover over their inadequacies with bluster and are triggered by those they see as weak being cleverer than them.

There is a lot about bullying in this book that echoes my own experience as a tall, clever, quiet girl who used humour to diffuse tension and was often seen as the wrong kind of different by my peers. It’s probably why I like Wix so much as a performer, because I see so much of who I am reflected back at me. The bullying Wix experienced at school as a teenager and carried forward the effects of into adulthood sparked a painful sympathy in me.

Wix also talks about disordered eating. I now have a healthier relationship with food, in that I allow myself to enjoy it for what it is, but her patterns of refusing food as a way of investing in a future self and bingeing as a punishment for a past self were familiar, as was her sense of not wanting to eat in front of other people for fear of being found disgusting or being judged for having an appetite and not being the feminine ideal of small and bird like. Wix followed her binges with purging, something I never did. I followed mine with punching myself in the stomach and hating myself for being a pig. A knot still forms when I think about it, but I have the tools now to be kind to myself. The pressures placed on young women to be something unachievable rather than themselves have always been there, ever since men took the power in society and decided women were mostly decorative trophies and not real people with intelligence and abilities equal to those of men.

Even her relationship with her dad is similar to my own, one of silences and a desire to please. From the age of 14, on the recommendation of her doctor after a rare illness, Wix starts to take a daily walk in the woods with her dad and his dog. My walks with my dad were at a younger age, walking the guard dog at the place where he worked across rough ground that used to hold a cotton mill. We would sort of talk, me gabbling on in the way 10 year olds curious about the world do, but my dad was always disconnected, lost inside his depression and anger at the world for being so incomprehensible to him. I didn’t know that was what it was at the time. Aged 10 or so, I thought it was about me not being the boy he wished I was.

Wix’s relationship with her dad pivoted after they were in a serious car accident together that almost killed them. They worked at growing closer, being vulnerable with each other. And then her dad’s brain injury led to dementia. Wix describes very simply and clearly what it’s like to be present when a parent is disappearing. She says at the start of the chapter that it conveys a quiet and sad story, and she’s not wrong.

Memories of her family and growing up form long chapters, interspersed with chapters that are more aphorism than narrative. One such landed directly with me, having recently been interviewed for and offered a job which on paper was perfect and that the organisation thought me ideal for, only for the reality not to be a good fit for me personally. I was brave enough to turn it down, despite how flattered I was by their appraisal of me. The chapter in Wix’s book is titled ‘Mooncake, or, the disappointments of fame’ and ends with the sentence, “if we are to get anywhere in this world, we must, at some point, learn to sever the ties between applause and self-worth.”

The memory of her mum’s slow death from an aggressive and inoperable brain tumour is presented as a list of thoughts, some spinning out into memories of shared moments together. The thought I liked best was the one that considers the importance of the last book you read before death. Wix suggests that this is more important than the coin under the tongue with which to pay the ferryman. The last book that you read, or that is read to you, arms you with something to have a conversation about to ensure safe passage. Wix read Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider with her mum during her last days.

Wix has a difficult journey through grief that made me reflect on how much I’ve forgotten about my own grief for my mum and how at unexpected times grief reappears. Making my decision over the recent job offer reminded me of how much I miss her, the person I discussed most of my big life decisions with, until the day her awareness of her dementia led her to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you any more.” I have others I can discuss life with, of course – my husband, my best friend, friends with whom I’ve worked for years – but there’s still nobody like my mum was. And that’s okay. Mums are special. Like Wix says, they were our first homes.

Delicacy was a surprising read for the way it encouraged me to reflect on my own adolescence and adulthood. I was expecting more in the way of ‘comedic effect’. Instead, I found something poignant and human, honest and affecting. And I understand now why Wix’s performances are so good.

Read 07/03/2023-12/03/2023

My first read for Dewithon 23.

My second read for Bookforager’s Picture Prompt Book Bingo this year.


7 thoughts on “Delicacy: A Memoir About Cake and Death

  1. I’d known Katy as a TV actress, particularly as the ditsy friend in Not Going Out, but not realised sheeple also did stand-up, nor that she was Welsh, so this was quite a revelatory as well as a moving memoir that you’ve reviewed, so thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not Going Out isn’t a show we watch, so I hadn’t realised that she was in it. I might give it a look one time Mr H is doing something else.

      Your chosen quote from Ghosts captures Mary perfectly. I can see her saying it in my mind’s eye.

      I didn’t know that Wix is Welsh, either, until Paula mentioned this memoir. The faint lilt in her accent seems more obvious now.


      1. Katy hasn’t been in Not Going Out for a few series so unless iPlayer have the early series available to watch you won’t see her since at least 2019, I’d imagine.

        Liked by 1 person

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