gourmet rhapsody by m barbery

If you were a world renown food critic and you were dying a slow, painful death what would be your dying wish?  Monsieur Pierre Arthens lays in his bed surrounded by his most beloved ones yet rather than having a strong desire to appreciate the loves of his life, he wishes to locate in his memory the “perfect taste” from his youth.  Now, what could that flavor be?

Frankly, I was quite hesitant to pick up Muriel Barbery’s Gourmet Rhapsody because I had enjoyed The Elegance of the Hedgehog very much, and since this one was her debut novel I held myself back from facing any disappointments; just in case it didn’t meet my expectations. I tend to avoid disappointments… but that’s a whole other can of worms. Anyway.  I was wrong. (Never judge a book by its cover)Never judge anybody’s debut novel.

Arthens desperately searches for that particular taste that he had once experienced during his childhood.  Each chapter revisits his first indulgences in various types of foods: meat, fish, bread, duck, sorbet, etc.  When I eat, the depth of my descriptive vocabulary is shamefully limited to delicious, zesty, melt-in-my-mouth good… or the obvious sweet, sour, spicy words.  But every single description in the novel is filled with ingenious combinations of ordinary words that brilliantly depicts how a single taste is achieved.  Simply brilliant.  It gets your taste buds watery and your stomach growling.  As Barbery intelligently incorporated the philosophical  meanings of life in the Hedgehog, Gourmet Rhapsody strives to tell the story of life’s simple pleasures and sublime moments.  Arthen’s fervid exploration to pinpoint this particular taste reflects, perhaps, our daily peregrination to seek the meaning of our lives.   So, if you had to choose your very last taste (or meal for that matter) what would it be?  Personally, Arthen’s last taste came quite as a surprise.  And just to make it clear, Gourmet Rhapsody is not about food per se but the sensual effects of food and taste in life.

dee’s rec: 4/5

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