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Debt To Pleasure, The: A Novel [Paperback]

John Lanchester
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 22 1997

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

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From Amazon

A gorgeous, dark, and sensuous book that is part cookbook, part novel, part eccentric philosophical treatise, reminiscent of perhaps the greatest of all books on food, Jean-Anthelme Brillat Savarin's The Physiology of Taste. Join Tarquin Winot as he embarks on a journey of the senses, regaling us with his wickedly funny, poisonously opinionated meditations on everything from the erotics of dislike to the psychology of a menu, from the perverse history of the peach to the brutalization of the palate, from cheese as "the corpse of milk" to the binding action of blood. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Diabolically clever, Lanchester's debut novel more than lives up to its advance hoopla. This purported "unconventional" cookbook-cum-memoir is a brilliant portrait of its narrator, a man whose professed gentility conceals a cold-blooded obsession and a sinister agenda. In a dry, supercilious manner, meant to display his soi-disant refined taste and superb erudition, Englishman and Francophile Tarquin Winot sets out to produce his physiologie du gout, a book that will include bona fide recipes (blini, fish stew), arcane culinary lore (the history of the peach), etymological disquisition (the origins of the words for coriander?from a variant of bedbug?and vodka) and fawning references to such culinary stars as Brillat-Savarin and Elizabeth David. Tarquin's commentary is larded with acidic bon mots, astringent asides and frequent invocations of figures ranging chronologically from Aeschylus to Auden, and culturally from James Bond to Luis Bu?uel. But what lies between the lines gives the narrative its insidious fascination, for in his casual references to the accidental deaths of servants, a neighbor and various family members, Tarquin gives away his true character, suggested by his early statement that "[t]here is an erotics of dislike." It is only gradually that the reader deciphers those clues and realizes that Tarquin is revealing far more than sibling rivalry when he insists that it is he?not his brother Bartholomew, a celebrated painter and sculptor?who has the true artist's genius. For those who appreciate linguistic virtuosity and light-fingered irony, who enjoy constructing a jigsaw puzzle out of tantalizing clues, this novel will be a lagniappe, fit for connoisseurs of fine food and writing. 100,000 first printing; $100,000 ad/promo; BOMC and QPB featured selections; first serial to Granta; audio to Audio Literature; foreign rights sold to 16 countries; author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars the debt to nabokov Feb. 27 2000
This book impressed me first and formeost as the work of a Nabokov wannabe. The "unreliable narrator" ploy, the protagonist who is, at least in his own eyes, too good for this world, the slow unveiling of horror within a texture of polite erudition and so on all felt deeply familiar from the moment i picked up the book and it didn't take long to figure out where I'd run across them before. That said, my advice to Mr. Lanchester is, "Nice try John, keep workin' on it but... keep your day job."
I remember meeting a man called Alexis once on the island of Hydra. He was handsome, charming, witty and international. He had lived all over the world and had, to quote Roy Batty, "seen things you people wouldn't believe." He was instantly likeable and almost everyone in the gentle crowd of artists, rock stars, hippies and vacationing literati swirling around him liked him immensely in spite of the fact that, once you got to know him a bit, you realized that he was a cold-blooded, mercenary killer who specialized in working for governments engaged in the dirtiest of wars - Angola, Brazil, Chile and so on. Reading "Lolita" is a little like spending an afternoon with Alexis. The texture of the experience is so rich and luxurious, the pacing and plotting so deft that you are willing to forgive your companion almost anything just as long as you can continue to bask in the glow of the encounter. By contrast, reading "The Debt to Pleasure" is a bit like a first date with someone who turns out to be exasperating, self-absorbed and, in the end, not particularly interesting. By the end of the first chapter "A Winter Menu" there was, I'll admit, a bit of intrigue left.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Do you know that word "barbecue" originates from Haitian "barbacado" that refers to a rack-frame system leaving off the ground a bed? Do you know that tomatoes, if imminently picked and allowed to ripe during transport, will turn plasticky and insipid? Do you know that the thickness requirement in preserving the juice in barbecued meat is an inch to 3 inches? Have you ever wondered why starch (such as rice) and fruits, and not a glass of iced water, serve to subdue the spiciness of curry?
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hannibal Lecter writes a cook book Sept. 5 2001
This book both enthralled me, and gave me the chills. It was much like reading "The Silence of the Lambs" from the point of view of Hannibal. You know, "I HAD to kill the census worker, his liver just went SO WELL with fava beans and chianti."
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Monster Within Nov. 27 2001
By A. Ross
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.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars What a delightful escape
An outstanding writer whose style is fluent and challenging. A sense of vocabulary that is undervalued in current society. His later works are equally rewarding
Published 6 months ago by Charles tupper
4.0 out of 5 stars Would Tarquin Winot Like Hannibal Lector?
I was able to read this little book for my book club. Not being of the literary ilk, at first I found it rather hard to read. Read more
Published on May 30 2002 by Ramona Honan
4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly Nabokov
If you like dark comedies and find culinary arts even the least bit interesting, read this marvelous first novel from John Lanchester. Read more
Published on Nov. 7 2001 by Dennis Grace
2.0 out of 5 stars A psycho killer by any other name . . .
Yes, the narrator is brilliant. And he is very witty. But his "secret" comes clanking out far, far before it is meant to be discovered. Read more
Published on Aug. 27 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars stylish debut
This debut novel by the British book reviewer and food critic, John Lanchester, owes a roughly equal debt to Jean-Anthelme Brillat Savarin's The Physiology of Taste, perhaps the... Read more
Published on June 17 2001 by Orrin C. Judd
2.0 out of 5 stars very well-written narcissistic tedium
Tarquin Winot fancies himself a connoisseur, an arbiter of taste, a genius, and possibly, God. Unfortunately, this doesn't make him a very interesting narrator, since egomania... Read more
Published on April 25 2001 by tired bob
4.0 out of 5 stars a master chef's secrets
'The Debt to Pleasure' is a case of "what you see ain't necessary what you get". It starts off with a pompous master chef from England telling us about how to prepare... Read more
Published on April 14 2001 by lazza
5.0 out of 5 stars MFK Fisher Meets Damian
You will feel more clever for having read this book. You will also learn more than you wanted to know about preparing food and the dangers of improper handling. Read more
Published on March 29 2001 by M. Asali
3.0 out of 5 stars Van Veen in the kitchen
Tarquin Winot is from the Hannibal school of elegant criminals, but he is far more effete and philosophical than Lecter. He's also a narcissistic snob. Read more
Published on Jan. 19 2001 by T. Olson
5.0 out of 5 stars Fiendishly clever and totally involving.
A critic quoted on the book jacket claims that The Debt to Pleasure "has no flaws." That may or may not be true, but the critic's obvious enthusiasm for the book... Read more
Published on Nov. 24 2000 by Mary Whipple
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