Gourmet Rhapsody was French novelist Muriel Barbery’s first novel. It has only been translated and released in English after the phenomenal success of her second novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
Gourmet Rhapsody is a special and very interesting debut novel. It encompasses a series of witty reflections on the life and career of the famous but oh so unlovable French food critic Pierre Arthens, as he lies on his death bed in the same posh building that was made famous in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, desperate to recapture a forgotten flavor.
Monsieur Arthens, revered by some and reviled by many, has been lording it over the world’s most esteemed chefs for years. He is a loathsome man who has passed judgment on their gastronomic creations year after year, and who has decided their fates with a stroke of his pen, destroying and building reputations on a whim.
Now, this self-absorbed dying man has one wish, one desire before he dies: he wants one last taste of the Flavor par excellence. His physician has told him he has 48 hours to live, so time is short. Lapsing through chapters into nostalgic memories of early, formative tastes, women and pets, Arthens reveals himself as a man driven by gastronomic ecstasies, from his childhood impressions of eating grilled meat in Tangiers to summers gorging on fresh fish in Brittany. Alternating with these splendid remembrances is decidedly more salty commentary by his resentful children.
We are told the strange tale of this venerable man’s life, partly with his own voice, and partly told by acquaintances and other people (and even a cat). There are many who wants to voice their views on M. Arthens – he has been a man without any middle ground, a man either loved or hated.
Muriel Barbery’s debut novel may at times be a little rough-edged, but the prose is rich and very satisfying. Gourmet Rhapsody is an interesting book which is very well worth reading.
“Barbery’s debut, occasionally rough-edged and uneven in structure, showcases her lush and satisfying prose and sets the stage for what has come. ” – Publishers Weekly
“This work will delight foodies with a love of language but may disappoint readers looking for a novel they can really sink their teeth into.” – Library Journal
“In Gourmet Rhapsody, Barbery best expresses her talent, demonstrating sensitivity and profound understanding both of life’s many flavors and of the ways of the human soul, with all its weaknesses and contradictions.” – Food & Beverage Magazine (Italy)
“Muriel Barbery possesses a controlled, rich, and precise language, one that allows readers to taste the very flavors described.”- Corriere della Sera (Italy)