Sunday, October 18, 2009

Give me another hedgehog

Muriel Barbery's novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, was one fascinating read. Her earlier novel, Gourmet Rhapsody, was a bit of a disappointment. I don't really have a taste for French novels, since I find them too slow and feel that nothing much happens in them (much like French movies). But Hedgehog made me see that French novels can be exciting. Reading Gourmet Rhapsody, however, made me constantly ask "What's the point in this novel?"

Gourmet Rhapsody is about Pierre Arthens, the renowned food critic we've met in Hedgehog, who's recalling significant episodes in his life as he lays dying. In the novel, the critic's own thoughts and memories alternate with the stories of people whose lives he touched. The critic is in search of that one singular flavor, an elusive taste that he wants to experience again before he dies. The people around him -- his wife, his children, the concierge, fellow food critics, lovers, etc. -- tell the circumstances why they either love or hate Arthens.

As you can tell from the synopsis, nothing much happens in Gourmet Rhapsody. If Barbery wants to show the different facets of Arthens through his past experiences and by the feelings of the people around him, the attempt fails. In the end, Arthens is still a conundrum. We don't get to discover how he developed his high-brow tastes, his aversion for his children, his preferential treatment for the household help, and his choice in women. Gourmet Rhapsody left me wanting for more.

Read this book if:
  1. You love melodramatic French novels and cinema.
  2. You like translated fiction.
  3. You've always wanted to be a food critic.


Charlie said...

I'll take a pass on this one, Peter. The last thing I need is s-l-o-w.

Book Dilettante said...

I bet the food critic prefers the household help as he can't stand the snobbish French upper class. It must be a theme for Barbery. I have to read this book!

Amanda said...

Aw, I'm sorry this didn't work for you.

Tina said...

sorry this was a bummer, but every once in awhile it's nice to take something OFF the TBR list. Hope your next read is more enjoyable.

Peter S. said...

@Charlie: It's a good thing that the book is fewer than 200 pages.

@Book bird dog: Hmmm... Interesting theory.

@Amanda: It's all right. I still had fun reading Barbery's descriptions of different foods.

@Tina: That's one way of looking at it! Thanks for pointing this out, Tina!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I think I'll pass on this one, but I do have, and need to read "hedgehog" one. Glad you liked that one.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Diane! I think you'll love The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Anonymous said...

I loved the Elegance of the Hedgehog but I think I'll skip this one.
Peter - i dropped you a comment on an older post. Not sure if you saw it.
Where is this well-stocked small bookstore in Pasig?

Unknown said...

Hi, Mrs. B! So you finally have started your own book blog! I'll be checking out your reviews often!

That bookstore in Pasig is called St. Francis Bookstore. It's the bookstore in, ummm, St. Francis Square.

Anonymous said...

Hedgehog is on my Christmas wishlist. I really want to read that one. I think I might like the 2nd one too. Haha I like slow novels as much as fast-paced ones -- especially those about food!

Unknown said...

Hi, Blooey! This novel really isn't about food. Anyway, I'm sure you can mooch a copy.