March 2024
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Review: The Gourmet, Muriel Barbery

Legendary food critic Pierre Arthens is dying, but he doesn’t want his family or friends at his deathbed.  No, he wants to isolate the food that he needs to taste one more time before he goes.  And so he searches his memories of his life, trying to find that moment which is eluding his grasp.  Meanwhile, his friends and family reflect on him, his attitude towards them, and their feelings, and it becomes clear that this book isn’t really about food, after all.

One thing is certain; this book will make you very, very hungry.  Unfortunately I don’t have it with me as I’m writing this review, but its descriptions of the food that Pierre has eaten are lush and amazing, and he eats everything from huge rustic meals to the most refined fare at restaurants.  I was wondering if food critics really examined their food in such detail, but then I figured they must.  I enjoy Barbery’s writing, assuming my translation is fluid, and so reading this book was very pleasant for me.

I didn’t think it was as good as The Elegance of the Hedgehog, though.  There were no insights that I felt applied to my own life outside the book, if that makes sense, aside from maybe showing love towards people that I love, which I think most normal people do anyway.  Pierre’s character just never rose above his neglect of family and friends in search of food, and it becomes clear that he’s deprived himself of all the love that he could have had, and deprived his children and wife of a proper husband and father.  He’s extremely self-absorbed and the only thing he really loves is food.  His realizations all came a little too late for me to appreciate them, and I found I enjoyed the other characters’ chapters more than his, even if I did enjoy reading about his culinary delights.  I could really feel for the other characters and it was fun to see a few from Hedgehog turn up to talk about Pierre, since he’s the one that dies early on in that book.

The Gourmet is so short, however, that it’s probably worth a read even if you don’t like Pierre.  I’d definitely recommend it for food lovers in particular, and for anyone who has already enjoyed Barbery’s work.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free for review from the publisher.


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