The Gourmet: A tasty little novella

A little while ago I reviewed an amazing book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, in this post. After falling in love with this beautifully written and highly philosophical novel, I decided I needed to read her other book, a novella written several years earlier by the name of The Gourmet, a story about a dying food critic desperately trying to recall a dish in his final hours.

What I didn’t realise until I actually started reading this book is that the food critic is Pierre Arthens, the very same food critic who features in The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The Gourmet is set entirely in the same building, at Rue de Grenelle in Paris, and the narrative alternates between Arthens’ attempts at recalling the great food he has eaten over his life, and the opinions about Arthens of various other inhabitants of the building, all of whom also feature in her later book.

I have come away with conflicted feelings about this one. Pierre Arthens himself is made out to be a pretty horrible person, totally consumed with the world of food to the point of ignoring all those who care about him. The portraits of him painted by the other inhabitants of the building is overall scathing, and it is an odd feeling to read a book where you end up strongly disliking the main character. However, the descriptions of the food are utterly tantalising, and work their way from complex dishes right through to some of the simplest pleasures in cuisine – my mouth was actually watering while reading this book, and I honestly don’t think I have ever come across such perfect evocations of taste in the written word before.

Would I recommend this? Absolutely, although I am glad I read her other book first. But even if you haven’t read that, this is still worthy of a read simply for her incomparably exquisite writing. Muriel Barbery really is a sensational writer, and I can only keep my fingers crossed that we will see more novels by her as time goes on.

24 thoughts on “The Gourmet: A tasty little novella

  1. Interesting how the two novels are so inter-connected and that she manages to capture the reader’s taste buds like that!

    Speaking of food, this is the second blog post I’ve read about food, this morning. I really need to go grab some breakfast, now! 🙂

    • Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised by the connection between the two books. The Gourmet was written a good six years earlier too, so it’s kind of cool to see the characters first being formed, years before they were explored more thoroughly in her later book.
      I find that happens to me sometimes – I read some food blogs and suddenly am ravenously hungry. 😛

    • They are both great books, she is a very talented and intelligent writer. I haven’t read a fiction book about food before, or at least not that I’m aware of (though I did read a fiction book called B Is For Beer once, it was meant to be like a children’s book for adults…didn’t work as well as I had hoped though), so this one was quite a pleasant experience. 🙂

    • I think if you’ve read The Elegance of the Hedgehog you’ll possibly appreciate The Gourmet more, because you’ll recognise some of the characters in it and will have already mapped out Rue de Grenelle in your head (well, maybe…I know I did but then I am a bit weird).

  2. Now you’ve got me curious about how someone can write about food so well it makes you want to eat it. I am already intrigued by the theme as you started off with: “a story about a dying food critic desperately trying to recall a dish in his final hours”, with the food angle I think I’m set to get the book 🙂

    • It is quite an amazing feat to pull off, I think, but she definitely is an exceptional writer. I think the writing and the power of the descriptions of food sold me much more than the story, which is unusual actually for me. But it’s a great little book! 🙂

  3. Now I have to go read your review of The Elegance of the Hedgehog since it’s sitting in my car waiting to be read next! BAH! And then, of course, I’m going to have to read this since it has the same character. I will SO HAVE TO READ THIS ONE also because of your raving review. LOVED IT.

    • Hahaha, why thank you! You are too kind. 🙂
      It’s funny, because I was somewhat curious about this character, as they’re not really explored much in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, although they are important to the story (you’ll see what I mean when you read it 😛 ). They’re both great books though, but in two completely different ways.

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