Let Me Eat Cake: A Life Lived Sweetly by Paul Arnott Sceptre, HK$208 Paul Arnott is nothing like the French symbolist poet Paul Valery, to whom fine meals were a 'liturgical prescription'; his calm pastoral stoicism and weightless love for life don't call for Eucharist, but meet at an uncomplicated adoration of sugar. His first memoir, A Good Likeness: A Personal Story of Adoption, provides the philosophical counterpoint to the perceived tragedy of adoption, and his second, Let Me Eat Cake: A Life Lived Sweetly, is similarly surprising. Nothing like populistic monographs of Amerikanisch gastronomic torment (the likes of Debbie Danowski's Locked Up for Eating Too Much, Denise J. Bradley's Sweet Recovery: A Young Woman's Emotional Ride with Diabetes, Vision Loss, and Food Addiction, and Claudia Black's Double Duty: Food Addiction), Let Me Eat Cake is unique in an important way: its author is not only unrepentant, but happy. Both spiritually and physically, Arnott was shaped by tender maternal largesse. 'They knew,' he writes of his parents, 'that raising adopted children would raise many challenges but they would underpin the project by giving us the best they could afford. Her larder would always be full and she wouldn't stint on the sugar. My job was to eat what was put in front of me.' And eat he does - aspic jellies with egg and tinned salmon, pilchards in tomato sauce, pints of jelly impregnated with tinned mandarin oranges, thick layers of cold custard, cream and flaked almonds. The menu couldn't have been more typically lower middle-class British, but was relished by Arnott as ambrosial. 'If I were a dog,' he genially muses, 'I'd be dribbling.' The sweets for which his mother Betty was renowned became his morphia. In later years, the budding epicurean miniaturist discovered that the first purpose of sugar was medicinal, but knew intuitively from an early age that it was true. 'For to be ill when I was a boy,' he recalls, 'was to go to an altogether deeper level of sugar consumption.' To remedy a sore throat, Betty would take a couple of ounces of butter, then of sugar, place both in a bowl, mash them with a fork until smoothly mixed, and then gave this mixture to her doting little patient ('It was called butter and sugar, and I would sit up in bed like Tiny Tim shoveling it down gladly'). Convenience meals, tantrums, nannies and latchkey kids existed in a parallel universe. Arnott was the most contented of children. Proustian in their quotidian intensity, his memories blur with affection. He wildly anticipated a tonsillectomy because it would justify binging on ice-cream; increasing maturity forced him to take a liquorice pipe ('I remember feeling wise with one of these in my hand, blowing imaginary smoke rings. Days where I chose a sherbet fountain seemed infantile by comparison.'); and after drinking a tube of Smarties at the age of six, he 'pressed out the cardboard disc at the remaining closed end, and put the tube to [my] eye in the manner of Horatio Nelson'. Now an ardent husband and father, Arnott dismisses men who bandy 'tedious tales of addiction to porn', whereas the talk of women pins him like a tack to corkboard: 'Every time I turned on Woman's Hour as I sprinkled talcum powder on another backside there were women who were speaking for people like me. They were sharing their private confectionery secrets and I have never felt so like I was in the wrong sexual skin in my life. The relief was extraordinary.' There is in him the occasional gender-quaver - at one point he's informed that his choice of sweets suggests he's either an elderly woman or a depressed lower- class singleton - but his amiable protective impulses brand him all man. Happiness remains his hallmark. 'I felt as rich as any Arab on the Edgware Road as I carried my M&S bag full of custard tarts,' he writes from his freehold comfort zone. Arnott's profound recognition of his mother's influence on his life is, in this era of battery-parenting, both graceful and stirring. 'If there was a fault in what Betty did for us it was that it made life beyond childhood terribly complicated [...] When women everywhere else were sensing liberation, in my house one person was working harder than an Edwardian maid to keep three men living like kings. It has taken me until the next century to understand that.' And in these words, an inestimable gratitude for love itself.