Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barberry (Trans. Alison Anderson)
Recommended for people who liked The Elegance of the Hedgehog or The Butterfly and the Diving Bell
Gourmet Rhapsody is Muriel Barberry’s second novel and I am eagerly awaiting her third. Rhapsody deals with a side character (the restaurant reviewer) who died in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and thus takes place in the same space and time.
As the novel opens. M. Arthens is given a 48-hour death sentence by his doctor. He spends these last two days attempting to recapture one particular flavor. In doing so, we travel throughout his life with him and see the world through his intense, sensory experience. Much like the movie All That Jazz, this is an extended and beautifully lush death scene. It is a quest for the intangible and it is simply beautiful.
We see the world from more than simply the M.’s deathbed. His wife, his children, his mistress, even his cat and the bum he passed every morning weigh in on his life and how it intersected with theirs.
There is nothing apologetic in the way M. Arthens lived his life. He didn’t love his children, or treat bums well out of guilt. He was a man of passion. That passion informs all of his life, from the taste of tomato from his grandmother’s vine to the buttered toast at a roadside American diner, M. Arthens lived and enjoyed his life. I can find nothing wrong with that. The fact that he lacks sentimentality and acknowledges his lack of emotion for his children is probably one of the reasons I loved the book so much. Fake, end of life, sappy reconciliations can always be found. A man who says “I hope my children don’t waste the energy to hate me or love me” cannot.
The other reason I love this book, is the spectacular ability of Barberry and Anderson to draw me completely into the world of M. A’s life. The language of this book-long memorial service and the dreamlike quality of his memories are brought to life in the verbal equivalent of 3D, HD, surround-sound, smell-o-vision. The book is immersive and easy to read. I highly recommend it.