Gourmet Rhapsody is the first novel by the author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery. The english translation was published in the US in August following the success of Hedgehog.
Several of my friends thought that Gourmet Rhapsody is a sequel to Hedgehog, but it’s not. It’s also not really a prequel, the events are actually happening concurrently to the events of Hedgehog. It could be considered a companion novel, since it’s set in the same building and involves many of the same characters.
The main character of Gourmet Rhapsody is Pierre Arthens, the food critic from Hedgehog. It’s set in the hours before his death, as he travels through his memories searching for a single remembered flavor that’s eluding him. He is desperately trying to identify the particular flavor haunting the back of his mind before he passes on.
It has a unique structure – Pierre relives certain food memories on his quest to identify the mystery flavor, and interspersed are small chapters told from the point of view of various people who knew him throughout his life. Some regarded him fondly, others…not so much.
I love food writing, and Muriel Barbery’s descriptions of food and eating in this novel are delectable. Don’t read this book when you’re hungry. It’s an interesting story, too. It’s not as powerful and wonderful as The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I thought was incredible. (My review is posted here.) But it’s an enjoyable experience, and fans of Hedgehog will enjoy being back in that world and reading Barbery’s beautiful writing again.
If you’re interested in getting a copy of this book, it’s currently available on Book Depository for 50% off – only $7.49.
Here are my favorite lines/passages:
The real ordeal is not leaving those you love but learning to live without those who don’t love you. (page 54)
The second reason I like Monsieur, it’s kind of hard to put into words… it’s because he farts in bed! The first time I heard it, I couldn’t figure out what it was I’d heard, so to speak… And then it happened again, it was seven in the morning, it came from the corridor to the little salon where Monsieur sometimes slept when he came home late at night, a sort of detonation, a false note, but I mean really loud; I’d never heard anything like it! and then I understood, and I couldn’t stop laughing, I laughed till I cried. I was bent over double, I had a bellyache, but at least I had the presence of mind to go to the kitchen, I sat down on a bench, I thought I’d never catch my breath! From that day on I’ve felt particularly well-disposed toward Monsieur, yes, well-disposed, because my husband farts in bed, too (but not as loud, all the same). A man who farts in bed, my grandmother used to say, is a man who loves life. (page 67)
Childhood exaltation: how many years do we spend forgetting the passion we breathed into any activity that held a promise of pleasure? Why are we now so rarely capable of such total commitment, such elation, such flights of charming lyricism? There was so much exultation about those days spent swimming, so much simplicity… so soon replaced, alas, by the ever increasing difficulty of finding pleasure in things… (page 87-88)
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