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Product Details

  • Paperback: 156 pages
  • Publisher: Europa Editions; First Edition edition (August 25, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933372958
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933372952
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best of the Month, September 2009: Proust's infamous madeleine cannot hold a candle to the lush, winsome memories of meals past that you'll find in Muriel Barbery's Gourmet Rhapsody. M. Pierre Arthens is France's premier restaurant critic—so premier in fact that he's simply called the Maître—and we meet him as he lies in bed, waiting to die. Fervently he mines years of gastronomic delights and discoveries in search of one single flavor, one that he says is "the only true thing ever accomplished." What unfolds—in vignettes narrated by him and by a chorus of his familiars (most human, some quite comically not)—is a portrait of a man in thrall to the very ingredient that makes French cuisine so inescapably, ecstatically, seductive: It's not cream, nor cognac, but the cook who defines those glorious tastes. "The only true work of art, in the end," he says, "is another person's feast." --Anne Bartholomew

Amazon Exclusive: Muriel Barbery and Alison Anderson on Gourmet Rhapsody

Amazon.com: What was it like returning to rue de Grenelle in Gourmet Rhapsody, after working on The Elegance of the Hedgehog?

Alison Anderson: I missed Renée (we only see her briefly, and she's grumpier than usual) and Paloma! This rue de Grenelle was a far more gloomy place, given both the character of Monsieur Arthens and the circumstances. But the dog and the cat provided some comic relief, and there are some lovely excursions away from rue de Grenelle (I particularly enjoyed the farm in Normandy…).

Alison Anderson and Muriel Barbery

Amazon.com: Do you see yourself writing more novels set in Number 7, rue de Grenelle?

Muriel Barbery: No, I think I am through with this locale. And it was by chance, I didn't plan to set my second novel in the same place as the first one. I have been lucky enough to have travelled a lot over the last two or three years and now I long for new literary horizons. Besides, the setting was not very important for me. It provided a means of amusing myself by deploying a satirical tone, but this is absolutely not the point in either novel.

Amazon.com: This story teems with the Maître's lush, intimate memories of meals past. Are any of these memories your own? Do you have a favorite among them, or a personal food memory you could tell our readers about?

Muriel Barbery: I am an ordinary person and as it is for all of us, it is for me: food is linked with very early and intimate memories. All great chefs have such blessed remembrances of precocious culinary ecstasies. And those of the novel are mine, of course. I couldn't describe emotions and feelings that are not authentic. When I read it over, I think that the whiskey moment makes the greatest impression on me, because it was at the same time intense and unexpected.

Amazon.com: The Maître is a caustic, cryptic kind of character (outside of his own recollections), compared to Renee Michel, whose quirky intelligence endears you to her. Which is more challenging for you to write: a person you love or a person you hate?

Muriel Barbery: Both are easy and difficult to exactly the same extent. They match with different moments of my life; I don't choose the characters: they blossom naturally at an uncontrollable moment and I just try to follow their voice. But I spent much more time with Renée than with Pierre Arthens; this was a moment of writing infused with pure joy, with a feeling of freedom I had not felt when writing my first novel. I felt free to write with no fetters, for the mere intoxication of abandoning myself to all the sensations and emotions this voice was offering to me. She led me much further than I could have ever imagined.

But on the other hand, adopting Arthens's voice was an extraordinary experience: the voice of a man, a brutal one, without qualms or remorse, extremely distant from my own character, was a matchless means of addressing some significant matters I otherwise wouldn't have dared to evoke.

Amazon.com: Could you tell us more about Muriel Barbery’s style? What in the original text helped you impart the emotional force found in the chorus of characters that make up Gourmet Rhapsody?

Alison Anderson: Muriel's prose is not easy to translate, but it is among the most rewarding I have ever worked with. She loves words, loves expressing herself, and a translator can tell when a text has been carefully written, so conveying the intent I mentioned above becomes the main issue. If I could taste the sashimi, or the tomatoes, in Une gourmandise [Editor's note: the French title of Gourmet Rhapsody], the reader of the English version has to be able to taste them too, so that's where I sometimes rely on my experience as a novelist...how to get that sensation across. And as I mentioned above, with regard to the chorus of characters, if I find the right balance between the original and my own "version" or reading of the text, it should work in the English...again, because Muriel wrote so well, so precisely, in Une gourmandise, the signposts were in the text pointing me in the right direction in English. I don't work with an overall vision for the text the way the author might, other than achieving consistency in style and voice, and that's really a question of word by word, phrase by phrase. I work with the leaves and the trees, not the forest….

Amazon.com: You thank the renowned French chef Pierre Gagnaire at the close of the novel. What was his role in your inspiration for the Maître’s story?

Muriel Barbery: When I wrote the novel, I could not afford to go to fancy restaurants. But I wanted to write a scene in just such a setting, to show the contrast between complexity and simplicity, luxury and raw, rough but deep sensations. I had heard him speaking about his art, and he spoke with great poetry. I sent him a letter asking for a carte and a menu of his restaurant. I used it in the chapter about the mayonnaise. I often think that denominations of dishes in French restaurants are slightly or frankly ridiculous and pompous. But sometimes it's beautiful. In this case, I enjoyed reading his carte a lot.

Amazon.com: The idea of a "last meal" is a seductive one, and certainly a hard choice. We won’t give away the Maître’s final feast, but we are curious to know what you’d choose.

Muriel Barbery: It's a very personal and intimate question, indeed. If I write novels, it's because I need fiction to put what I feel into words. And who knows what one would choose? The imminence of death is an extraordinary and radical counselor.

Amazon.com: How involved are you in the translation process? Would you compare it at all to having a piece of work adapted for stage or screen?

Muriel Barbery: Unfortunately, my level of English does not allow me to be as involved as I would like to be. I am very interested in the issue of translation, precisely because it's completely different from the challenges associated with other forms of adaptation. Novels are pure language before they are stories suitable for adaptation in other fields. How can the translator respect the spirit of the text while drawing in the genius and idiosyncrasies of his/her own language? This implies a complete reinvention within a framework that he or she is coerced into. And I adore comparing texts: it illuminates aspects of my own language.

Mainly, I am incredibly lucky to have such an excellent translator in Alison Anderson: I made a few remarks about the first version but it was already close to perfection. And I was amazed to discover the solutions she chose for very difficult passages.

Amazon.com: You are both a novelist and a translator. How would you compare the two roles?

Alison Anderson: They're very different. When I'm translating, I'm relieved of the responsibility of creating characters, developing a certain style, plotting—all the elements that put your creativity (and your soul) on the line, as a novelist. With translation your responsibility is to the author's text and words and you don't have the freedom to invent, or go off on a tangent. You have to be faithful to someone else's creativity. But at the same time there is a very pleasurable freedom in working with words, without the burden of having to make up the narrative.

Amazon.com: How did you find your way to literary translation? Given the enormous success of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, do you think there is more opportunity now to expose U.S. readers to works of translation?

Alison Anderson: I trained as an "international organization" translator but then didn't find work. I was a sailing enthusiast and the French are great single-handed sailors so I translated a single-handed round-the-world chronicle and it actually was published! That gave me the confidence to try fiction, and eventually establish contacts in the literary world, through the American Literary Translators' Association.

It is my sincere hope that The Elegance of the Hedgehog will encourage more people to read books in translation. There is an unfortunate perception in the US that translated books are difficult or academic, (which can be true as many translations are published by university presses, who select the "cream" of foreign literature, often experimental works that may not be easily accessible to the "average" reader), but Hedgehog proves that there is an appetite for foreign fiction, and that there are many books being written in other languages that are enriching and humorous and well-written, and that offer a whole world for readers to discover. I believe all types of literature deserve to be sampled in English (just as they are in German or French, or the vast majority of other languages in the world!) The boom in Scandinavian crime fiction is an interesting phenomenon for example, and books like these and Muriel Barbery’s may open up the way for many more translations. Let's hope so.

From Publishers Weekly

French novelist Barbery's sensuous first novel, being released here after the phenomenal success of her second novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, encompasses a series of witty reflections on the life and career of famous, unlovable French food critic Pierre Arthen, as he lies on his death bed desperate to recapture a forgotten flavor. 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 are decidedly more salty commentary by his resentful children (Die in your silk sheets, in your pasha's bed, in your bourgeois cage, die, die, die); long-suffering wife, Anna; the exultant tramp outside his Paris apartment building whom he ignored for 10 years; even his faithful cat, Rick (named for the character in the film Casablanca). Barbery's debut, occasionally rough-edged and uneven in structure, showcases her lush and satisfying prose and sets the stage for what has come. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Customer Reviews

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this beautifully written and touching story.
Even as Arthens finally remembers the taste he is dying for, he reveals both his own utter vanity and perhaps the folly of making too much of any mere food.
From the first word to where I finally just had to put it away, which was about fourth way through the book, I could not get into the book.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 74 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 27, 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )

Succulence annoncée. Succulence foretold.

Over half a year ago I posted at Amazon the following review of the French version of this work, and it is indeed a pleasure to have read the English version now, thanks to the Vine program. In retrospect, and after having read the English version, I still would not change a word of the review:

I first became acquainted with Ms. Barbery's work through Amazon's "Vine" program, receiving a copy of her new book, "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" to review. I was quite impressed, rated it 5-stars, and posted a review under the Vine program. I decided to see what else she had written, and purchased this book while in France in October.

The novel concerns the greatest critic of the culinary world, the "Pope of Gastronomy." Early in the story, one is told that he will die tomorrow. It is his history, and that of his family, acquaintances, even his pets. Ms. Barbery tells the story in 29 separate vignettes, alternating between the culinary critic (whose name we finally learn towards the end) and all the other characters. A literary technique that works well, despite the multitude of view points, which she sharply reduced in "The Elegance of the Hedgehog." Her style is rich and dense, like a wonderful chocolate éclair. Writing to be savored. The novel "works" on several different dimensions. There are the human relation aspects, a man who is at the epitome of his field, estranged from most of his family - his most caring relationship is with the servant who is now head of the household, and his pets. His wife, Anna, is resigned to his philandering. In the vignettes told by his daughter, Laura, and his granddaughter, Lotte, one gain's insight into his dysfunctional character.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Sharon Isch TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 23, 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The two main things to be said for this novel are that (1) it's very short and (2) you can see in it early glimmerings of the talent that, some six years later, would create my favorite book of 2008, the brilliant novel "The Elegance of the Hedgehog."

What you won't find here is anybody to care about.

Like "Hedgehog" it is told in short chapters (only two of them as long as 7 pages) with alternating narrators. But this one has one principal narrator--France's boorish and unlikable leading restaurant critic who's been given 48 hours to live and will use that time to try to summon up an elusive flavor from out of his past. The shorter in-between chapters each have different narrators offering their perspectives on the dying man: his children, his wife, his nephew, his doctor, his cleaning lady, his dog, his cat, a mistress, a protege and two characters who will eventually turn up again in "Hedgehog"--Renee, the concierge, and Gegene, the beggar on the corner.

I seriously doubt many readers will get involved enough in this gustatory memoir to care if our narrator finds that flavor or not. And I can see why this book only got an English translation after "Hedgehog" got such rave reviews in America. In my review of "Hedgehog" I said five stars weren't enough. With this one I found three stars too many.

Meantime...Any other readers here as puzzled as I am over the narrator's notion that Americans butter their bread before they toast it?
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig VINE VOICE on August 18, 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Pierre Arthens is a thoroughly loathsome man. His ego and arrogance is commensurate with his reputation as one of the world's great food critics. His writing and his persona has redefined the role of food critic in French society. He is also dying. His physician has told him he has 48 hours to live. In the time he has left to him Arthens is determined to remember that one flavor, that one taste sensation that could be said to have defined his life.

Lying on his death-bed in his elegant Paris apartment, Arthens reaches back in time trying to recall moments in time and a `tastes' in time that may mark that one great flavor. Each brief memory (in the form of a short chapter) is followed by the reflections of those who have for better or worse, usually worse, have had dealings with Arthens. These include his neglected wife, his children, a nephew, cooks, other food critics, restaurateurs, and even his cat and a small piece of artwork. That in summary is the plot and structure of Muriel Barbery's "Gourmet Rhapsody".

"Gourmet Rhapsody" was Barbery's first novel, published in France in 2000. It set in the same building as a later work, "The Elegance of the Hedgehog". Hedgehog was published in English by Europa Editions in 2008 to great critical and popular acclaim. Subsequently, Europa decided to translate and publish "Gourmet Rhapsody". I think the fact that Gourmet Rhapsody was her first book is apparent. It is not nearly as polished and does not flow nearly as smoothly as Hedgehog. However, the book is still very much worth reading and if I had read it before Hedgehog I would have believed it showed a great deal of promise.

On the plus side: Barbery's writing is very fluid and insightful. There are passages that are just dazzling.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By bookmagic VINE VOICE on March 20, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is not a long novel, but it is very filling. Maitre, the world's greatest food critic has found out that he is going to die. As he lies in bed, he craves a particular flavor, but can not recall which one. The chapters alternate between his recollections of memories around varies foods: meat, fish, bread, etc, and the thoughts of those around him on the fact that he is dying. Only his cat and wife seem to regret his death. His children and many others, including a homeless man on the street, have a love/hate relationship with Maitre. Their thought are only a couple of pages in between Maitre's memories of experiences with food.

my review: This was a beautifully written book. The chapters where Maitre descibes his childhood associations with particular foods, especially his grandmother's cooking are lush and descriptive. The places he visited hold as much meaning for him as the food he savored.

I bought The Elegance of The Hedgehog by Barbery the day it was released. But I have yet to read it. Now, after reading this lovely story, I will make an effort to get to it much sooner. I really enjoyed the author's writing.

rating 4.5/5
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