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The Debt to Pleasure [Hardcover]

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

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Book Description

22 Mar 1996
Draws the reader, through descriptions of food and cooking, into a world of murder and art. Narrated by Tarquin, an ironist, epicurean and a snob, this novel is constructed around a series of seasonal menus, which unfold his autobiography.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (22 Mar 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330344544
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330344548
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 12.7 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 693,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

A gorgeous, dark, and sensuous book that is part cookbook, part thriller, 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 brutalisation of the palate, from cheese as "the corpse of milk" to the binding action of blood. --Sue Sheph --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


The chilling, deluded Tarquin is the best character to come out of an English novel since Charles Dickens put pen to paper (Tatler)

Reading between the lines to discover what Tarquin is up to is enormous, sinister fun . . .dazzling, languidly brilliant, his verbal flourishes are irresistible (James Walton Daily Telegraph)

A fully achieved work of art . . .a triumph. You have to salute the real thing. The Debt to Pleasure is a major work, a supreme literary construct that's also deliriously entertaining. Even the recipes are gorgeously seductive; several pages of my copy are flecked with stains of ragu and ratatouille to mark the moments when I could stand temptation no more (John Walsh Independent)

Coruscatingly, horribly funny . . . a cunning commentary on art, appetite, jealousy and failure. Tarquin is a splendid creation, genuinely learned (the scholarship is dazzling), poisonously bigoted and wholly mad (John Banville Observer) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
One of my greatest pleasures is eating, so I must cook. I savour, therefore I cook. I like tasty food made with fresh ingredients that address all four of our tastes - salt, sour, sweet and bitter - to create a complementary whole. Of course, there is now the fifth taste, unami, the expanding universe within soy sauce, that can amplify other inputs. I have just made an English pie, with chicken, mushrooms, a little diced bacon, seasoning and fresh herbs. It was moistened with stock and an egg before being baked in my own short-crust. Fresh gravy and vegetables alongside is all it will need. It thus has sweet, salt and bitter, but lacks sourness. A squeeze of lemon on the vegetables will compensate.

For the expansion, take one novel closely related to cooking and read. Do try the recipes, but proceed with care. Cook things right through before committing to taste. John Lanchester's The Debt to Pleasure is my recommendation. It's a highly original, highly informative cookbook written by one Tarquin Winot, an expert in the field.

In one of the most original books I have ever read, John Lanchester creates a real anti-hero. Too often the concept is ironed onto a character who is just a naughty boy doing naughty, often repulsive things, the concept of "hero" being often ignored. Tarquin Winot, the anti-hero of The Debt to Pleasure, is a brilliant and learned cook. He is also highly creative, using ingredients that only those who might cook with a purpose would choose to use. He is also something of a psychopath, perhaps. That is for you to judge. But he has survived to write his cookbook and apparently savours his retirement, courtesy of those he has fed.

The Debt to Pleasure is a superb novel.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
If you have a day on a boat or plane to read this, then you will probably find it consistently hilarious. If you read it as a daily serial, however, you may well find that it is a book with 10/10 for technique and satire but 2/10 for content. It reminds me of a Miles Kington column or Swift's 'Modest Proposal..' and the single joke, good though it is, really does not last for over two hundred pages. Each page and each jab at the foibles of the food and art worlds (amongst others) is individually brilliant, but I feel like I have been snacking on canapés when I was invited to dinner.
It is almost worth buying the book for the Marmite reference alone.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Enemy Within 27 Nov 2001
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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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A treat for unfashionable men. 3 Jun 2000
By A Customer
It is difficult, as all the critics professional and amateur have amply demonstrated, to write anything about this book without giving something away. Rest assured that the book you think you're reading on page one will not be the book you turn out to be reading at the end, and rest assured also that you will be fascinated and captivated by the journey from one to the other. Beautifully done, and thoroughly satisfactory for those who, like myself, feel that the world has got slightly OUT OF HAND, that people simply don't understand what is truly important any more: namely, the correct proportions for a dry martini, the difference between a cottage pie and a shepherd's pie... I must stop, or I'll say something I shouldn't, and spoil it for you.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Taut, dark, sly and sophisticated 26 Jan 2003
It is always difficult to divorce yourself from sympathising with the narrator when reading a novel. The character of Tarquin Winot is at first just a snob- then turn into something far more sinister. Ten out of ten to Lanchester for creating such a man as his voice never slips- he seems real by the end of the book. There is an open endedness to the novel that should be applauded- there is never any excuse or reason for Winot's behaviour- he just does what he wants.
This is everything failed attampts to create a consumist monster (like Patrick Bateman in Brett Easton Ellis's American Psycho)didn't achieve. Lanchester is saying that just because a person is rich or intelligent it doesn't make them good.
Lanchester's narrative is as rich as christmas pudding. The best thing about it though is its slight ambiguity- you need to keep reading it to understand everything that's going on...and to read those recipes, of course.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I liked this book a lot
I liked this book a lot. Irony, snobbery, wit all wrapped up in a tale that is humorous and dark. I learned a lot too about the history of food and I like the no nonsense detail of... Read more
Published 27 days ago by Griff
5.0 out of 5 stars The false friend has a more general applicability and usefulness than...
Narrated by one Tarquin Winot, a snobbish yet brilliant foodie, as he travels to his home in France, this might seem at first to be nothing more than his musings (and highly... Read more
Published 3 months ago by sally tarbox
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightfully mischievous
Have given to 'selected friends', who have passed it on in turn. Will search for more from the author and look forward in anticipation.
Published 5 months ago by Patrick Flynn
4.0 out of 5 stars Amusing and diabolical
John Lanchester certainly hits the mark for quirky protagonist in this his earliest novel. Family and food feature large in this novel full of strange events. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Susan Mellups
2.0 out of 5 stars The Debt to pleasure by John Lanchester
Very very wordy, long winded and meandering. quite witty I suppose but far too abstract for my tastes.
Lots of long little used words and little story.
Published 16 months ago by P. A. Cunningham
2.0 out of 5 stars The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester
Very disappointed, I'm really not interested in someone elses daily menu even when it is accompanied by an account of a journey of little interest.
Published 17 months ago by Elizabeth Mary Gammon
5.0 out of 5 stars Priceless
I love this book, which is odd because to begin with I found it very hard going. However once you realise that the protagonist is up to something and you can't take a word he says... Read more
Published 17 months ago by ChicChantal
1.0 out of 5 stars Misleading
I fondly imagined that this book would be an original hardcover. Naive perhaps at this price.Instead it's a desktop reprint. I've fallen for this ruse once before, never again. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Gerry Moira
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the funnest, funniest novels I've read
Some reviewers here have complained that this novel is quite slight and unsubstantial. To me, that misses the point - things which are slight and inconsequential can be incredibly... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Guy
5.0 out of 5 stars Horribly fascinating
John Lanchester has created here a horribly fascinating protagonist: educated, cultured and snobbish, he is also an egocentric monster totally without empathy and utterly, utterly... Read more
Published on 19 May 2012 by Kyanite99
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