by Muriel Barbery
translated by Alison Anderson
I absolutely adored The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which is one of the first books that I reviewed for this blog. You can imagine my excitement, therefore, when I heard that the author had just released a new book. The fact that my local library had a copy available for this weekend meant that I was destined to read this book for the 24 hour read-athon.
I did not enjoy this book as well as her debut novel, I think primarily because I really do not care for the main character - a pompous food critic who is on his deathbed spending the last hours of his life trying to discover the one food he wishes to taste before he dies - rather than spending quality time with loved ones that he will leave behind. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy the book and absolutely savored her detailed descriptions of taste sensations.
I managed to read the book in one 2.5 hour sitting (it is only about 150 pages) and while I did not care for the characters, I did enjoy the author's writing style. The book is told in several short chapters, from a variety of view points. Every other chapter focuses on our food critic and his quest through the recesses of his memory to find the ultimate taste sensation with which to end his life on earth. The other chapters detail a different point of view of those who will be left behind: his children, his wife, the doctor and others (even the family cat is given a chapter). I found that I would often skim through these chapters - not because they were not well-written, but because they were truly depressing. This man alienated himself from all who should have been important in his life. His own children did not care for him, and his grandchildren do not have fond memories. While our food critic had a refined palate and a talent for writing beautiful culinary prose, he hurt those who loved him the most.
However, if you enjoy gourmet food - and all things associated with epicurean delights - then the chapters that focus on these refined aspects of life are worth the read. Let me share two such examples. The first deals with pastry:
No one was the least bit hungry anymore, but that is precisely what is so good about the moment devoted to pastries: they can only be appreciated to the full extent of their subtlety when they are not eaten to assuage our hunger, when the orgy of their sugary sweetness is not destined to fill some primary need but to coat our palate with all the benevolence of the world. (page 35)
Or there is the delectable description of the tomato:
The raw tomato, devoured in the garden when freshly picked, is a horn of abundance of simple sensations, a radiating rush in one's mouth that brings with it every pleasure. The resistance of the skin -- slightly taut, just enough; the luscious yield of the tissues their seed-filled liqueur oozing to the corners of one's lips and that one wipes away without any fear of staining one's fingers; this plump little globe unleashing a flood of nature inside us: a tomato, an adventure. (page 63)
I am not sure that this story is for everyone, but I do know that it was for me. I truly love Muriel Barbery's detailed writing style - and her diction is impeccable. I would rate this 3.5 out of 5 stars and I am looking forward to her third book, on which she is currently working.