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.