Gourmet Rhapsody, originally published in France as Une Gourmandise (2000) is Muriel Barbery’s roman de début but has arrived late to the US and UK shores. The book is a fascinating voyage through the world of a world famous food critic and the lives that he touched, knowingly or not. The protagonist lies on his death-bed in his Parisian apartment, longing for that one elusive saveur oubliée, the forgotten flavor, while waiting for his demise.
The narrative alternates between a desperate search by the bedridden maestro and the recollections from a motley crew of supporting cast members – a wife who never felt loved, his children who never measured up, his would-be protégé, his concierge, his grandchildren, an alabaster statue of Venus, and even his cat. Not surprisingly, but thoroughly amusing, it is the inanimate and the feline, who are fortunate enough to get a peek behind his public visage. On the other hand, the maestro’s journey at these last moments of his life take him back – not to the grand banquets and régals somptueux or the most exquisite dining experiences; but to those lost encounters when he was in the presence of something purely sensory, innocent and completely sincere with the purpose of life. His recollections allow us glimpse into the world of the “man” before he became the “Maestro.” They lead us on a journey of our own, to recognize beauty and grace in the most uncomplicated pleasures of our lives.
True to the book’s title, Alison Anderson’s translation loses none of the lyrical and at times, whimsical prose. The text faithfully conveys every individual voice in the chorus of supporting characters, each with their own share of pain and loss, grief and antagonism, for the dying man. In contrast, the main narrative is a poetic ode to the art of cooking and equally important, enjoying it. Wave after wave of delicate flavor, subtle textures, and colorful memories string together like an endless feast for the senses. The feeling one leaves with is like that of a gourmand who has had his every last wish fulfilled, with the sure anticipation that there is more where this came from. We will be waiting eagerly, Ms. Barbery ! Bon apetite !!
Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0