CompleteMartialArts.com - The Debt to Pleasure: A Novel
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Dewey Decimal Number: 823.914
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 272
Publication Date: 2001-12-07
Winner of the Whitbread Award for Best First Novel and a New York Times Notable Book, The Debt to Pleasure is a wickedly funny ode to food. Traveling from Portsmouth to the south of France, Tarquin Winot, the bookâ€™s snobbish narrator, instructs us in his philosophy on everything from the erotics of dislike to the psychology of the menu. Under the guise of completing a cookbook, Winot is in fact on a much more sinister mission that only gradually comes to light.
Spotlight customer reviews:
Summary: Fussy, Overwrought, and Pretentious
Comment: Who knows what the point of this book is? This novel could only be considered euridite by a certain class of Brit who thinks faulty and antiquated French constitutes familiarity with the language or that the narrator's indulgences constitute some putative example of good living. It is in fact a very British take on the world and only makes sense with the contrast of France as the foil. The language is overwrought, the culinary descriptions banal, and the narrative exasperating. Apparently many reviewers here found this novel the height of intellectual elegance, which is probably a commentary on the sad state of fiction writing today (after all, Phillip Roth is considered quite brilliant by Europeans). I'm sorry to say this novel isn't worth the time it takes to read it. His other novel, Fragrant Harbour, however, is lovely.
Summary: A review of The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester
Comment: One of my greatest pleasures is eating, so I must cook. I savour, therefore I cook. I like tasty food made with fresh ingredients that address all four of our tastes - salt, sour, sweet and bitter - to create a complementary whole. Of course, there is now the fifth taste, unami, the expanding universe within soy sauce, that can amplify other inputs. I have just made an English pie, with chicken, mushrooms, a little diced bacon, seasoning and fresh herbs. It was moistened with stock and an egg before being baked in my own short-crust. Fresh gravy and vegetables alongside is all it will need. It thus has sweet, salt and bitter, but lacks sourness. A squeeze of lemon on the vegetables will compensate.
For the expansion, take one novel closely related to cooking and read. Do try the recipes, but proceed with care. Cook things right through before committing to taste. John Lanchester's The Debt to Pleasure is my recommendation. It's a highly original, highly informative cookbook written by one Tarquin Winot, an expert in the field.
In one of the most original books I have ever read, John Lanchester creates a real anti-hero. Too often the concept is ironed onto a character who is just a naughty boy doing naughty, often repulsive things, the concept of "hero" being often ignored. Tarquin Winot, the anti-hero of The Debt to Pleasure, is a brilliant and learned cook. He is also highly creative, using ingredients that only those who might cook with a purpose would choose to use. He is also something of a psychopath, perhaps. That is for you to judge. But he has survived to write his cookbook and apparently savours his retirement, courtesy of those he has fed.
The Debt to Pleasure is a superb novel. Tarquin's narrative draws the reader, perhaps unsuspecting, into his world, evoking an empathy with and for the character. That we have as yet only partially got to know this brilliant cook only becomes apparent as we proceed through his life, a life he has peppered with his personal peccadilloes. But above all, Tarquin Winot is both a planner and a perfectionist. His culinary creations are thought through, drafted like dramas to provoke particular responses, to achieve pre-meditated ends. They are also successful, appreciated by those who consume his concoctions, and eventually they succeed in precisely the way that he plans and executes.
Throughout, John Lanchester's prose is a delight, as stimulating to the mind as his character's creations might be to the palate. Florid and extravagant it might be at times, perhaps too much butter and cream for some diets. But The Debt to Pleasure is a satisfying, surprising and eventually fulfilling read. Tarquin fulfils both aspects of the anti-hero and ultimately we are left to grapple with the nature of self-obsession and selfishness.
Summary: Beautifully Distasteful Allegory
Comment: John Lanchester tips his hand early in this beautifully
crafted novel. The narrator-who is named for the earl of
Rochester-professes the need for a full-blown 'erotics of
dislike'. For a gourmet, he spends a lot of time on his
aversions and pretensions and little on the joys of food
And that's the heart of the matter. This thoroughly
unlikeable narrator has perverted the goodness of food
because he himself is, well, a particular kind of malevolent
pervert. Lanchester's genius in this novel is that he
slowly reveals the nature of his narrator.
What starts out for the reader as a mildly satisfying
glimpse at an esthete who's way too tighthly strung ends
up as a portrait of an extraordinary evil disguised
by good manners and precious tastes.
Lanchester may well have intended this to be a spoof of
the arch postures of coddled foodies. As a parody, this
certainly works. Recent events on the world stage may have
made this more apt as a satire of those who pretend to
lofty idealism while dabbling in the basest realities.
Lynn Hoffman, author of bang BANG from Kunati Books.
Summary: Confirms my beliefs about Iceberg Lettuce...
Comment: I read this book over a weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a wicked, hilarious camp masterpiece and I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions. I agree with the other reviewers that the outcome of the novel is apparent very early on but that did not bother me one bit. The enjoyment I took away from this book was in reading Tarquin's tangental diatribes on just about everything. This is a very quotable book. My favorite portion has to be his musings on the preparation of a salad and the banality of Iceberg Lettuce. Cooks will love this book.
Summary: Mouth watering
Comment: Why the subtitle "a novel?" Because otherwise you might not know. Witty, frequently hilarious, and wicked, says one reviewer. Novel masquerading as essay masquerading as cookbook and combining the virtues of all three, says another review. Damn hard for me to review, says this reviewer right here.
Um, think of my newsletter in its most surreal moments. Remove my sense of restraint, add a few themes (ingredients) in order to reach novel length. Simmer on low heat, serve in a relaxing reading room, watch my stupid excuse for a metaphor go all to hell like a souffle that collapsed due to earthquake.
Seriously, the book features a remarkable narrative voice, strong characterization, an actual plot which perhaps reviewers neglect to mention since so much else is also praiseworthy, the extreme culinary sensibilities of an author who's also the restaurant critic for the London Observer, wit, wordplay, cleverness, surprises, wickedness, and the rare ability to write a sentence spanning two pages which is perfectly sensible and which I keep trying without success to imitate in the course of this BS caca review.
Sometimes, you just want something very different, but which you will still enjoy. This is it.