* Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery (2009/2000)

gourmet-rhapsody3Book Review: This is far less a novel than The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and I’m not surprised that it wasn’t translated into English back in 2000 when it was published in France.  It was the brilliance of Hedgehog that brought such attention to Barbery’s writing and thus the translation of this earlier novel nine years after it was first published.  If I hadn’t read Hedgehog, I’m not sure I would have finished Gourmet Rhapsody because I couldn’t bring myself to care enough about its main character, Parisian food critic Pierre Arthens, to travel with him down memory lane as he reminisces about his life (as the book opens, we are told he will die in 48 hours).  The more interesting chapters are told not from his viewpoint, but from others, such as his wife, daughter, granddaughter, housekeeper, and his cat.  The cat’s chapter was my favorite.  One problem with the many narrators is that we have such little information about each one.  In some chapters, it’s not even clear who the narrator is, and just about the time we figure out who’s speaking and what relationship he/she has to Monsieur Arthens, the short chapter ends and we switch gears to someone else.  Having read Hedgehog, I already had some background as to Monsieur Arthens’ egotistical self, his devoted wife’s unconditional love despite the fact that she’s been ignored for years, his son’s love/hate relationship with him, and his daughter’s utter disgust.  It helped to know some of that, but if I had read this book first, it would have been more difficult to follow the narrators.  Still, there are some brilliant descriptions throughout as Arthens clomps along memory lane telling us about Japanese culture and raw food, Moroccan kesra from his childhood, a lunch of oysters, ham, asparagus, chicken and white wine near Omaha Beach (3 pages of details about this food), and his epiphany about buttered toast in which he wonders why the French only butter their bread after is has been toasted instead of before.  The book is full of little treasures once you get past trying to make it flow as a linear narrative with clearly established points of view.  (fiction)

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