One's reaction to this book will, in large part, be predicated on how one reacts to cleverness and dark humor. For, while written with indisputable skill, Lanchester's novel is more than anything an exercise in droll, urbane, (dare I say smug) cleverness-at it's best (or worst, according to one's taste). Within the deliciously witty, snide, nasty, condescending, and rambling meditations of one Tarquin Winot lie dark kernels of truth regarding his true nature and past. Tarquin is both genius and gourmand, so his writings are loosely arranged around a seasonal menu, with tangential discourses on the various ingredients and much more. While his descriptions of food are certainly evocative, there's much more going on than a simple foodie travelogue. It's obvious quite early on that he's a pampered egomaniac, and indeed, after a while, his self-absorbed ramblings begin to grow wearisome. However, mingled with these are broad clues as to true megalomania and psychopathy. All of this emerges as he recounts an interview he grants his brother's biographer.
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.