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This review is from: The Gourmet (Hardcover)
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This little book is beautiful to look at, and beautiful to read. It's been cooked up so delicately, with such exquisite attention to detail, that surely Muriel Barbery must be one of the best authors writing anywhere in the world today - and this is in translation.
The Gourmet is the first book Ms Barbery wrote, although she is far better known for her second, the bestselling Elegance of the Hedgehog - which I haven't read but will do now. The main ingredient of the story is France's most famous and celebrated restaurant critic Pierre Arthens. He is dying and he sets a slight but intriguing mystery on the second page of the book, he is trying to recall a flavour that is 'the key to my entire life'. Much of the rest of the book is concerned with him reliving particularly exquisite meals, or taste experiences as he searches his memory for this lost flavour and as he does so he tells his life story.
Interspersed with Pierre's chapters, are brief chapters from other characters, his long-suffering wife, the children who can't stand the pompous, unloving old man, and his mistresses. We even have one chapter told from the point of view of a statuette on his desk, and another from a cat. This isn't as twee as it sounds, and each gives us a different perspective on the man.
The descriptions of place and food are as good as any I've ever read, simply superb. Ms Barbery, in the voice of Pierre Arthens, describes simple things like orange sorbet in such an amazingly three dimensional way that she actually made me begin to 'taste' them in my mouth, as well as in my mind. And as well as the food, there is one chapter in which a dog is described (I'm very fond of dogs) that's the best description of a dog I've ever read too.
It's difficult to find any fault with this perfect, elegant and lovely little book. The only point that slightly spoiled the perfection was the fact that, when the forgotten taste is revealed it's not something which which most readers outside France will recognise. That said, Ms Barbery makes its symbolic significance absolutely clear (can't say more without giving it away) so it's certainly not enough of a quibble to lose a star.
I reckon anyone who loves food, loves John Banville's style of writing, or is just looking for something fresh and delightful to read, should try this book.