If you’ve asked for a book recommendation over the last six months, I’ve surely told you about The Elegance of the Hedgehog. With the wild success of Barbery’s Hedgehog, publishers quickly set out to republish her first book, Gourmet Rhapsody. Several of the characters are familiar from Hedgehog, but the main star is the dying food critic, Arthens (or simply, Maître). The entire book is made up of his reminisces about food, as he tries to pinpoint that one last taste that he yearns for. Throughout his recollections, there are interspersed perspectives of those around him, from the beggar he always ignored to his unloved children to mistresses far & wide.
Overall impression- contains bursts of brilliance, but nothing like the sustained majesty of Hedgehog. You can tell the maturation of the writer from one book to the next. And don’t read this book if you’re hungry. Mouth-watering descriptions, reminiscent of MFK Fisher.
Examples of delicious prose below.
The linden tree:
Above all there was the linden tree. Immense and decorative, from one year to the next it threatened to submerge the house with its tentacular foliage, which my aunt obstinately refused to prune; any discussion was out of the question. During the hottest days of summer, the tree’s troublesome shade offered the most sweet-smelling of bowers. I would sit against the trunk on the little bench of worm-eaten wood and avidly inhale the scent of pure, velvety honey which came from the tree’s pale yellow flowers. A linden tree releasing its perfume at the end of the day is a rapture which leaves an indelible mark, and in the depths of our joy to be alive it traces a groove of happiness that the sweetness of a July evening alone cannot suffice to explain.
His introduction to whisky, or “DTH” (Down the Hatch)
To start with, the unfamiliar aroma unsettled me beyond anything I thought possible. Such formidable aggressiveness, such a muscular, abrupt explosion, dry and fruity at the same time, like a charge of adrenaline that has deserted the tissues where it ordinarily resides in order to evaporate upon the surface of the nose, a gaseous concentration of sensorial precipices… Stunned, I discovered that I liked this blunt whiff of incisive fermentation.
Like some ethereal marchioness, I cautiously ventured my lips into the peaty magma and… what a violent effect! An explosion of piquancy and seething elements suddenly detonates in my mouth; my organs no longer exist, no more palate or cheeks or saliva, only the ravaging sensation that some telluric warfare is raging inside me. In raptures, I allowed the first mouthful to linger for a moment on my tongue, while concentric undulations continued to engage it for a long while. That is the first way to drink whisky: absorb it ferociously, inhaling its pungent, unforgiving taste. The second swallow, on the other hand, was undertaken precipitously; as soon as it had gone down, it took a moment to warm my solar plexus – but what warmth it was!