Cover Photo: This header forefronts a black and white picture of author Sanaë Lemoine. She is gazing off into the distance with a slight smile. To the right of her author photo we see the cover of her novel, THE MARGOT AFFAIR. The background of the header image reflects the cover of the cook, which is banded with yellow, pink, and red stripes.
Photograph by Frances F. Denny, header illustration by Eliza Harris

Every Coming-of-Age Story Is a Story About Hunger

Hannah Kingsley-Ma interviews Sanaë Lemoine, author of ‘The Margot Affair,’ on cooking, recipe development, and using food to build plot and character.

Sanaë Lemoine’sThe Margot Affair

a set of recipes based off of dishes in her novel

Hannah Kingsley-Ma: The way appetite functions in this book is so interesting to me. I feel like it runs up against the sort of glossy food-media idea that food is always an extension of care, always an uncomplicated expression of sharing and generosity. I love seeing the different relationships in this book refracted through the lens of what they eat together.

HKM: I imagine it to be fastidious work, the recipe testing and the developing of the recipes. How do you work on your own fiction writing? Does your food-media work lend itself to it, or does it feel good in just how different it is?

The Margot Affair

HKM: There does seem, to me, a parallel between the incremental work of developing a recipe and the incremental work of building a novel. I was really surprised to read that you had said in an interview that plot doesn’t come naturally to you. I think one of the great pleasures of this book is that there is a lot of consequence in it, which I was thrilled by, and which is something that I struggle with in my own writing. And so I’m wondering: When you write a scene where someone is sharing a meal, is that a way of opening up a scene and creating those moments of progression that help you move through the story?

The Margot Affair

HKM: My big aha moment the second time around was like, wow, forgot how much cannibalism is in this!

The Margot AffairRaw

HKM: Are there fiction writers who you think write food really well?

first novelIt Is Wood, It Is Stone

HKM: I totally agree. I think it really grounds the scene.

The Diving Pool

HKM: How did you decide to write the recipes on your website that were in the book?


HKM: What do you think was different about reverse engineering these recipes from how the characters in the novel prepared them and writing these recipes out as you would have cooked them in real life?

Hannah Kingsley-Ma is a writer and radio producer. Her work has appeared in outlets like The New York Times, The Believer, McSweeney’s, The Smudge, Literary Hub, Joyland Magazine, the CBC, KCRW, KQED and KALW Public Radio. As a graduate of New York University’s MFA in Fiction, she received the Jan Gabrial Fellowship. She has taught creative writing at NYU and PEN America. She is the 2020-21 Axinn Writer-in-Residence. More of her work can be found at