A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 1996
A Voice Literary Supplement Best 25 of 1996
Winner of the Whitbread Award for Best First Novel
Long-listed for the Booker Prize
John Lanchester's The Debt of Pleasure not only deftly answers all the above questions but also, in impeccable and painfully beguiling prose, embraces his readers into the world of Tarquin Winot. Strictly speaking, the book, which is nothing more than a scrumptious culinary reflection in thoughtful menus arranged by the seasons, cannot be deemed as a work of fiction if Winot is a real chef. From his menus, which embody different cultures, capture a man's psychology and thus his impulse to order, and witness the come-and-go of dining trends; Winot related the story of his life to the preparations of food.
The writing is as insatiating and titillating as the menus. Winot retreated to southern France and reminisced, papered his thoughts on the subject of food that evoked his childhood, his parents, his brother Barthomelow the artist, the beloved maidservant Mary-Theresa, and the home cook Mitthaug. Aroma of a particular dish could graciously tug his memory and coalesce the disparate locations of Winot's upbringing. Woven into his painfully and haughtily opinionated meditations on food was disheartening anecdotes of his family. His brother struggled as an artist who, like other artists in history, never felt adequately attended to for his work and died a tragic death of fungus poisoning.Read more ›
Reading the other customer reviews, I both loved and hated the book. I could agree with points on both sides. I'm not sure whether this means that it is a truly gifted book, or that I'm really twisted....
I'm sure that I would have liked it much more if I had had a knowledge of French or French cuisine. Some of the names of dishes he mentioned in passing would probably have added to the wit of the book if I had known what they were. I can understand what a pate is, but some of the more convoluted dish names had me saying "What the heck is that?"
Well worth the time and effort to read if you can get through the dense and convoluted prose.
Well, one of the reasons I really liked this book was its big words, and I was able to use my little grey cells. Read it if you want a tasty experience!
That some reviewers found the book disturbing or unsettling seems rather odd. Well-cultured and well-spoken psychopaths are hardly a new phenomenon in either literature or real life, and that's essentially what Tarquin is. It's possible that this disquiet comes from the reader becoming enamored of Tarquin and then finding out his true nature at the very end, but this seems exceedingly unlikely. For all Lanchester's skill, Tarquin's "secret" is fairly evident quite early on, via a number of extremely broad hints, so that readers who are paying any kind of attention will quickly realize that all is not as it might seem. In the end, it's a fairly clever and certainly well-written character study, with a dark secret that is unearthed rather too soon for the book to be entirely satisfactory. Still, it is clear Lanchester is a writer worth watching.