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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A review of The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester
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...
Published on 24 Nov 2007 by Philip Spires

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Technically brilliant but surprisingly unsatisfying.
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...
Published on 10 April 2000


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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A review of The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester, 24 Nov 2007
This review is from: The Debt To Pleasure (Paperback)
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. Tarquin's narrative draws the reader, perhaps unsuspecting, into his world, evoking an empathy with and for the character. That we have as yet only partially got to know this brilliant cook only becomes apparent as we proceed through his life, a life he has peppered with his personal peccadilloes. But above all, Tarquin Winot is both a planner and a perfectionist. His culinary creations are thought through, drafted like dramas to provoke particular responses, to achieve pre-meditated ends. They are also successful, appreciated by those who consume his concoctions, and eventually they succeed in precisely the way that he plans and executes.

Throughout, John Lanchester's prose is a delight, as stimulating to the mind as his character's creations might be to the palate. Florid and extravagant it might be at times, perhaps too much butter and cream for some diets. But The Debt to Pleasure is a satisfying, surprising and eventually fulfilling read. Tarquin fulfils both aspects of the anti-hero and ultimately we are left to grapple with the nature of self-obsession and selfishness.
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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
By 
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Debt To Pleasure (Paperback)
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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Technically brilliant but surprisingly unsatisfying., 10 April 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Debt To Pleasure (Paperback)
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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fiendishly clever, totally engaging., 5 Sep 2005
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Debt to Pleasure (Paperback)
Tarquin Winot, the speaker of this wickedly entertaining novel, is an artist, a dedicated gourmet, and a brilliant and thoughtful philosopher. He is also an intolerant and arrogant snob who foists his lofty opinions upon the reader as he travels from Portsmouth to southern France. In sometimes long-winded sentences, Winot comments on effete subjects, such as the erotics of dislike, the aesthetics of absence, and his disinterest in the idea of interest, while simultaneously creating deliciously sensuous descriptions of the perfect bouillabaise, lamb with apricots, or pike in beurre blanc.
Winot is so waspishly nasty, so full of condescension, and so unsympathetic a character that I almost gave up on him and the book, thinking both too rarefied to be interesting. Then the author "hooked" me with a few details that made me think that Winot might not be all he seemed to be--that he might be far more fascinating than I had previously suspected. As Winot takes the reader through a series of elaborate seasonal menus, he casually drops hints about his past, piquing the reader's interest and inspiring him/her to figure out exactly what kind of man Winot is and what, exactly, he has done. This strange, unwinding backstory becomes the compelling "plot."
Carefully crafted and (ultimately) coherent, this novel of intrigue is a delight to read, filled with sumptuous imagery, wickedly dark humor, and a series of mysteries that depend on the reader's ability to read between the lines and draw conclusions. Both cerebral and sensual, this is a literary entree one cannot help but savor. Mary Whipple
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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
This review is from: The Debt To Pleasure (Paperback)
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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Devilishly dark food for mind and stomach, 15 Feb 2004
By 
A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Debt To Pleasure (Paperback)
Told in the first person by Tarquin Winot, foodie and snob, this book lets us see into the mind of a self-obsessed egotist who lets nobody get in the way of his over-inflated self-esteem.
This is a very clever book, charting Tarquin's journey from Portsmouth to his home in the South of France. At first the book appears to be a classic food-writers text about the numerous dishes he enjoys on the way (with countless digressions to show his erudition and polymathic knowledge). Soon however, a disturbing sub-text emerges and we realise that Tarquin's journeys are more about death and destruction than feeding the stomach.
This book would not be up everybody's street, far from it, but for those who enjoy fine writing and are prepared to enjoy a story which emerges slowly from pages of seeming irrelevance (although beautifully written) this is not to be missed.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well now..... This is pleasant., 30 Nov 2004
By 
Neil Sellen - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Debt To Pleasure (Paperback)
After reading this book, on recoommendation from a friend, my first reaction was to feel cheated. Cheated that I'd wasted years before finding Kevin, I mean Tarquin and delighting in his rich inner world.
This book is all the things others describe, blatant demonstration of esoteric learning, recipe book, travelogue, cod-philosophy, whodunnit surveillance manual and descent into madness. It is also brilliantly, quote-out-loud funny.
Paucity of plot and plausibility of characterisation? Forget that and just indulge yourself by rolling Tarquin's rich aphorisms around your tongue. Let them rest, melting slowly across your senses and wash over you. Exquisite. Now read the next paragraph....Stop. Repeat at will.
Everyone will have their favourites ("..the lettuce appeared to have been torn apart by wild dogs..."), find yours.
Perhaps the greatest joy of this book for me was to make the double-take commonplace... No, wait, he didn't just say that, did he?....My particular favourite today is the description of how he meticulously pierces a hole in his copy of Le Monde, for the purposes of covert surveillance, using a heated compass. He then, in an aside, applies his (no doubt, beautifully manicured, slender, etc..) finger to the hole to make it big enough to see through. Brilliant. And quite, quite mad.
By the end of the journey, we are in a very disturbed place. Lanchester's skill has been in getting us here without losing our interest or, strangely, our engagement with our hero. Although we leave Tarquin at the front door waving to the newlyweds, we know that he will carry on, living life and deciding others' fates on his terms. Quite bonkers. And the best bit? After a particularly flamboyant demonstration of quite how florid his psychosis has become, Tarquin sits calmly in the stunned silence of his companions...."Well now...This is pleasant..."
Enjoy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Foodie intellectuals' delight, 31 Oct 2011
By 
V. Morley "Reinagle" (Cornwall, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Debt To Pleasure (Paperback)
The author is well read and opinionated about everything which is part of the joy of this strange text that is part novel, part cookery and cuisine guide. A challenging and diverting read.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A treat for unfashionable men., 3 Jun 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Debt To Pleasure (Paperback)
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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masquerade, 18 Aug 2002
This review is from: The Debt To Pleasure (Paperback)
A satisfying and enriching piece of fiction that masquerades as epicurean travel writing by John Lanchester's mouthpiece, Tarquin Winot. It combines in a not-ashamed-to-be-clever way the duplicitous use of language, wit, and a layering of genre that can only make one smile as one catches on to an understanding of where the story is leading one. To begin with Tarquin seems to be following the Elizabeth David route through gastronomy, then as his persona with its formative cast of characters takes shape and gleams through his web of self-deluding conceits the reader realises that his purpose is not so much amusingly absurd as absurdly sinister. The theory and philosophy of art is dealt with by the way, but the climax is not so much the (presumably) successful outcome of the murder plot, as a deeply pessimistic rejection of art's relevance to our current times. Tarquin explanation of his motives left this reader taken aback and groping for Balzac, Zola, Proust for reassurance that art and literature are still our best way of making sense of the world in the face of evil.
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The Debt To Pleasure
The Debt To Pleasure by John Lanchester (Paperback - 7 Mar 1997)
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