Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery

I'll just say it up front. If you liked The Elegance of the Hedgehog, you'll probably like this book. If you didn't, I wouldn't bother. Of the two I like Hedgehog better, but it is longer and more difficult to get through. I liked this book, but I did not love it.

The main character of this book is a world famous food critic, but not a very likable guy. He's arrogant, he goes on about how he never liked his children, he is unfaithful, and rude. So why read a story about him? I know. But the story is that he is dying, and he is thinking of a flavor that he can't quite recall. I think it's an interesting set up.

The chapters alternate between Arthen's description of a food he has eaten in the past (like tomatoes in his aunt's garden), and a person from his life describing their feelings and interactions with him.

In my opinion the food chapters are very interesting and fun to read. The writing is so intricate and descriptive without being overwhelming. I would guess that the translator deserves quite a bit of the credit. I think it is written so well, but I have to remember that it was written in French.

The food chapters also made me very hungry. The descriptions are so vivid you can almost taste the food!

Unfortunately I didn't copy down any great descriptions. I had to return my book because it was blocking my library card, but here are a few excerpts I liked:

In reference to dessert being eaten after a meal, and not when we are hungry, "not destined to fill some primary need, but to coat our palate with all the benevolence of the world." I love that.

A portion of a garden is described as "a cathedral of light splattered greenery."

"People think that children don't know anything. It's enough to make you wonder if grown-ups were ever children once upon a time."

I enjoyed reading the character's description of the foods' textures, flavors and merits. I liked the emotional connection that each of the flavors he was recalling had for him in his life. Some of them are very intimate and sensual. I just wish he was more likable.

This is a short book. It was translated and published after The Elegance of the Hedgehog, but it was Muriel Barbery's first novel. It was written 5 or 6 years earlier. It is set in the same building as Hedgehog.

I haven't talked to anyone else who has read it, and you know, that was the reason I started this blog. SO I'd love to hear what you thought!


Hayley's Comment said...

Oh I want to read this now! It can be my nightime book, which just means I read about a chapter a night before I go to sleep instead of my text books!

Kammy T said...

It would be perfect for that!

Kim Edwards said...

Kammy, I just finished Elegance of the Hedgehog. I really loved reading it. I am having my book club read it this month. Hopefully they will like it as much as I did. For the first few chapters I wasn't sure about it, so I hope they all give it a chance! It was a beautiful book. : ) Thanks for writing about it on your blog.

It will be fun to read this sequel.