The Gourmet – Muriel Barbery

February 4, 2010 at 19:06 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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This little gem of a book is a fantastic read. It revolves around the death-bed musings of France’s greatest food critic as he struggles to recall the flavour that is the ‘key to his life’; he reflects on the many extraordinary meals, both great and humble, that he has tasted in an attempt to capture this once-tasted-but-now-forgotten essence. Other voices also add their perspectives, from his family, acquaintances, even pets and the statue on his desk.

The descriptions of food in this book are remarkable; extraordinarily sensuous and captivating they explore not only the food itself but the evocations that familiar and unfamiliar tastes, textures and smells conjure in the mind. This book actually has a scent; not literally applied to the pages, but such is the descriptive power of the writing that the actual smells (from oysters to that of a pet dog) seem to emerge from the paper and tantalise the nose. The whole book is also just so French; the entire novel seems to be overlaid with a hint of Gauloises and that unmistakeable odour of the Paris Metro. Indeed, I wish that my schoolboy French was somewhat better so that I could read this book in the original language (although that is not a slur on the excellent translation by Alison Anderson).

Despite the captivating descriptions of various banquets, this is actually, though, not a book about food but about how we see ourselves; the pursuit of pleasure for both selfishly and for others, of power and arrogance and how our lives are informed by our experiences.

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