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Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery
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Gourmet Rhapsody (original 2000; edition 2009)

by Muriel Barbery, Alison Anderson (Translator)

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7785311,858 (3.11)41
Member:Donna828
Title:Gourmet Rhapsody
Authors:Muriel Barbery
Other authors:Alison Anderson (Translator)
Info:Europa Editions (2009), Paperback, 160 pages
Collections:TIOLI Challenge - 2012, Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Paris, 5/2012

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Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery (2000)

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» See also 41 mentions

English (44)  Italian (3)  German (2)  Spanish (2)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (53)
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
Sumptuous language (in French) but not much substance. A not-so-nice celebrity food and restaurant critic lies on his death bed, searching for an illusive taste experience from the past. In his search, he combs through various episodes and relationships from his life that might reveal the hidden treasure. Such memories are interwoven with views of the dying man from the perspective of everyone from the concierge to a statue of Venus in his study. Of course, passing by way of all the affected and disaffected members of his family and entourage (including the pets). In the moments just before death, when the man finally recalls the gourmandise that he has been yearning for, the pay-off for the reader is negligible. Addendum: the other members of my French book group appreciated this novel quite a bit more than I did, so much so that I'm tempted to revise my opinion and award the book another star. [After rereading the novel for a class, I'm awarding it one more star, based on an even greater appreciation of the language. My estimation of the novel as novel, however, remains the same. If the point of the novel is that it's the simple joys that make life meaningful or that one can only make sense of one' s life if one returns to childhood to rediscover what really mattered then, then the book's message is simply a cliche. I prefer to see the book's intentions as ironic. Yes, the dying food critic finally remembers the "savour" that he has been searching his memory for and it turns out to be that of supermarket chouquettes, an industrial pastry. It is quite "juste" that what he rediscovers as his purest joy turns out to be something artificial, of little value, in keeping with his failure to love and to value his wife, children, lovers, etc or to make good use of his talents. His joys, in essence, have always been artificial or misguided ones. He dies as he has lived. So his god turns out to be a chouqette. So what? I don't see any redemption in this. I think the author has been poking sharp fun at the academic and literary establishment all along. Of course, I could be dead wrong. Perhaps her aims were serious ones, in which case, she succeeded in expressing cliches in very sumptuous language. Bravo for the language, but I'd rather the irony, the poke in the eye.:] ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
Pierre Arthens, the famous food critic from Barbery’s second novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, is very close to death. He remains in his bed throughout Gourmet Rhapsody. His family is little comfort, as he has been of little comfort to them in his life. Arthens doesn’t love his children. “I have never loved them, and I feel no remorse on that account.” He ignores his wife, Anna, but she loves the “charmer with insane, miraculous talent ; a prince, a lord constantly hunting outside his own walls.” As one of his mistresses says: “No doubt about it, he was a regular bastard.”

Arthen’s only wish in his last hours is one last taste of a food he can’t quite name, a “lost flavor,” “the buried flavor that I cannot find.” Although his love of food stems from his grandmother’s cooking, “under the influence of her expert hands, the most banal substances were transformed into miracles of faith,” all of his passion was directed to the sensation and taste of food, none was left for his family.

Chapters alternate between Arthens remembering past meals, tastes, and cooks from his life; and his family, mistresses and employees offering their opinions on Arthens and his impending death.

As with Hedgehog, the translation by Alison Anderson is sublime. The writing about food is lyrical. “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.” A rare whiskey has “such formidable aggressiveness, such a muscular, abrupt explosion, dry and fruity at the same time.” Sashimi is “neither matter nor water,” “a fragment of the cosmos within reach of one’s heart.” ( )
  Hagelstein | Feb 2, 2014 |
A famous food critic, a man who has spent his life thinking about food and pursuing flavors, lays dying in his Paris apartment. He recalls tasting food and drink with a passion usually given to love, and his wife and children are the worse for it.

Yes, here comes the invariable comparison to Barbery's earlier The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I like that book so much, and so the description of her follow-up, about the dying food critic mentioned in TEOTH, sounded great. But the prose is so over-the-top florid that it becomes exhausting. For instance, the thought of having a drink of whiskey takes up two and a half pages. Chewing bread is described likewise. It isn't bad, but I don't love it either. ( )
  mstrust | Nov 26, 2013 |
The question that this book seeks to answer is "What is worthy of love?". This is hardly an uncommon theme in literature - in fact, the whole plot has been 'done' before. A tyrant nears the end of his life and seeks to recapture something that he loved in youth. Reflection and self-discovery ensue. Barbery's skillful character creation and use of narrative keeps this book just on the right side of trite, and the whole while it is a joy to read. ( )
  ratastrophe | Nov 2, 2013 |
I would say this book didn't have the depth of Elegance but if you love food (as I do) you will enjoy it.

Pierre Arthens, a star in the food critic firmament, is dying in his bedroom in the building made famous in The Elegance of the Hedgehog. A horrible human being according to many of those who knew him he nevertheless was acknowledged as a person of exquisite taste and the ability to write like a poet about food. On his deathbed he is seeking one elusive taste from his past. Could it be a daube such as his grandmother used to serve? Perhaps a foreign delicacy like sushi? Maybe a perfect loaf of Arabian bread like he ate as a child while vacationing in Morocco? Or perhaps the dish his uncle cooked one night:

He rinsed the jasmine rice in a silvery little colander, drained it, poured it into a saucepan, covered it with one and a half times its volume in salted water, put a lid on the pan, and let it cook. The shrimp waited in an earthenware bowl. While he was chatting with me, mostly about my article and my projects, he was shelling the shrimp with painstaking concentration. Not for one moment did he step up the pace, not for one moment did he slow down. When the last little arabesque had been stripped of its protective shell, he consientiously washed his hands with a soap that smelled of milk. With the same serene uniformity in his gestures, he placed a cast iron frying pan on the stove, poured a trickle of olive oil into it, let it heat, then scatterd the peeled shrimp into the pan. His wooden spatula adroitly circled the shellfish, not allowing a single tiny crescent to escape, scooping them from every side and causing them to dance on the fragrant grill. Then some curry. Neither too much nor too little. A sensual dust tinged the pinky copper of the crustaceans with an exotic gold: the Orient, reinvented. Salt, pepper. With his scissors he snipped a branch of cilantro above the frying pan. Finally, very quickly, a capful of cognac, a match; a long angry flame leapt up from the pan, like a shout or a cry set free at last, a raging sigh fading as quickly as it flared.

Yet, none of those are right but he feels he is getting closer. The object of the quest is perhaps not as important as the ramble through his memories.

As that paragraph quoted above shows Barbery is still a master of description and the translator, Alison Anderson, is a master of translation. I wished for a little more about his family and friends but, I guess, the purpose of this book was to show the interior workings of the mind and it certainly did that well.

The author information says she is now living in Japan and working on another novel. Bring it on! ( )
  gypsysmom | Oct 21, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
At her florid best, Barbery captures the arousal inflamed by good food (and good food writing) almost as well as Julia Child, who inspired countless readers with her recipes and epiphanic mouthful of sole meunière. While reading can’t replace the joy of biting into a juicy tomato, Barbery cooks up a decent substitute.
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Muriel Barberyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Anderson, AlisonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When I took possession of the table, it was as supreme monarch.
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A great food critic who can make or destroy the reputation of a chef with a stroke of his pen, Pierre Arthens faces his imminent death by trying to recall the one perfect flavor he sampled in his youth, a flavor that he believes forms the ultimate truth of his life.… (more)

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