Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Gourmet - Muriel Barbey

I read the Elegance of the Hedgehog last year as part of the Lost in Translation Challenge, and I loved it. So when I saw this at the book shop a month ago I knew I had to read it for Paris in July.

For one thing - I love a short book. But beside that, I thoroughly enjoyed this little story. The inside cover says
'France's greatest food critic is dying, after a lifetime in single-minded pursuit of sensual delights. But as Pierre Arthens lies on his deathbed, he is tormented by an inability to recall the most delicious food to ever pass his lips, which he ate long before becoming a critic. Desperate to taste it one more time, he looks back over the year to see if he can pin down the elusive dish.'
I found it interesting that in the early stages of the book it was about searching for the food, however I noticed a change, as the food critic reflected on his life - he was thinking more and more about his life experiences, the relationships he had in his life. I wonder if he was looking for that elusive experience of love. This is an interesting concept for this arrogant and self centred french foodie. His wife was devoted to him, but he couldn't see her as anything but a beautiful piece of art. His children were desperate for his attention, but he had nothing but intolerance toward them. Any wonder he was 'alone' in the end - searching for a flavour..

Despite the lead characters personality, the author did a fabulous job at describing him, his family, and his mission. One particular chapter I loved was that dedicated to bread. The narrator, Pierre Arthens, is recalling childhood memories of days at the beach. These words so eloquently describe my own experiences;
We were breathless; it was time to leave the beach. The day had already seemed both deliciously short and long. The shoreline at this point, a long sandy arc stretching lazily into the distance and devoured by waves, offered us the most heedless of swims, with the maximum of pleasure and the minimum of risk. Since morning, with my cousins, we had been diving over and over into the breakers, or taking flight from their crests, breathless, inebriated from the endless rollers....
Now, tell me you didn't just disappear into your own childhood memories of the beach?
I don't usually eat bread in my daily life, however, his recollection of bread can bust any restricted dieter... I wont quote it here, but I'd highly recommend this little book! It was both a tour through the sensual experiences of eating and tasting, but also a lovely journey into aspects of the vie Parisienne.

10 comments:

Frances said...

I also enjoyed this one but was glad to know ahead of the read that this novel preceded The Elegance of the Hedgehog. It is a slighter volume and easy to see the evolution in the author's writing when you have read both. I wrote about it in January here -http://nonsuchbook.typepad.com/nonsuch_book/2010/01/gourmet-rhapsody-by-muriel-barbery.html

Brenda said...

Ever since reading the "Hedgehog" I wanted to read this. Funny, I didn't because it was short, and I wanted something more from her, but I must get it out of the library or find it somewhere to buy.

Nadia said...

This sounds fabulous! What a treat to read - that bread quote you included loved it! I absolutely loved Hedgehog, and have this one on my TBR - so happy to see that it is another good read by Babery. Great post!

Electra said...

Oh, this sounds like a WONDERFUL book! Thanks for the suggestion!!

Karen said...

I was looking forward to hearing what you thought of this one. I think this one sounds more interesting to me than Hedgehog?? Do you think I would enjoy it??

Chat Noir said...

Another book to add to the wish-list.... its getting v-e-r-y long! Looking forward to seeing The Hedgehog on the silver screen, but always glad I've read the book first.

Audrey said...

I loved these books! The Hedgehog more, maybe because of the ending....but very glad I read them both.

Tamara said...

Hi All, It's just lovely to see how many people have enjoyed one or both of Muriel's books.
Karen, to answer your question, I would say of course you'll like it, but you need to not think about work... I just really enjoy how she writes.

JoAnn said...

I like the sound of this... on to the tbr list it goes! Thanks for the review.

chasingbawa said...

I actually heard about this a couple of years back and bought it when I last visited Paris thinking it would help me keep up with my French. Alas, my French hasn't kept up with me, so I'll be trying to get this in English! I just finished Elegance of the Hedgehog, so can't wait to read this!