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The Debt to Pleasure: A Novel Paperback – December 7, 2001

4 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A gorgeous, dark, and sensuous book that is part cookbook, part novel, part eccentric philosophical treatise, reminiscent of perhaps the greatest of all books on food, Jean-Anthelme Brillat Savarin's The Physiology of Taste. Join Tarquin Winot as he embarks on a journey of the senses, regaling us with his wickedly funny, poisonously opinionated meditations on everything from the erotics of dislike to the psychology of a menu, from the perverse history of the peach to the brutalization of the palate, from cheese as "the corpse of milk" to the binding action of blood. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Diabolically clever, Lanchester's debut novel more than lives up to its advance hoopla. This purported "unconventional" cookbook-cum-memoir is a brilliant portrait of its narrator, a man whose professed gentility conceals a cold-blooded obsession and a sinister agenda. In a dry, supercilious manner, meant to display his soi-disant refined taste and superb erudition, Englishman and Francophile Tarquin Winot sets out to produce his physiologie du gout, a book that will include bona fide recipes (blini, fish stew), arcane culinary lore (the history of the peach), etymological disquisition (the origins of the words for coriander?from a variant of bedbug?and vodka) and fawning references to such culinary stars as Brillat-Savarin and Elizabeth David. Tarquin's commentary is larded with acidic bon mots, astringent asides and frequent invocations of figures ranging chronologically from Aeschylus to Auden, and culturally from James Bond to Luis Bu?uel. But what lies between the lines gives the narrative its insidious fascination, for in his casual references to the accidental deaths of servants, a neighbor and various family members, Tarquin gives away his true character, suggested by his early statement that "[t]here is an erotics of dislike." It is only gradually that the reader deciphers those clues and realizes that Tarquin is revealing far more than sibling rivalry when he insists that it is he?not his brother Bartholomew, a celebrated painter and sculptor?who has the true artist's genius. For those who appreciate linguistic virtuosity and light-fingered irony, who enjoy constructing a jigsaw puzzle out of tantalizing clues, this novel will be a lagniappe, fit for connoisseurs of fine food and writing. 100,000 first printing; $100,000 ad/promo; BOMC and QPB featured selections; first serial to Granta; audio to Audio Literature; foreign rights sold to 16 countries; author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (December 7, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312420366
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312420369
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,308 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Lanchester is the author of the novels The Debt to Pleasure, Mr. Phillips, and Fragrant Harbor; and a memoir, Family Romance. He is a contributing editor at the London Review of Books and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Observer, and The Daily Telegraph, among others. Among several other prizes, including the Whitbread and Hawthornden Awards, Lanchester was awarded the 2008 E.M. Forster Award by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in London.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This debut novel by the British book reviewer and food critic, John Lanchester, owes a roughly equal debt to Jean-Anthelme Brillat Savarin's The Physiology of Taste, perhaps the most revered book on cooking ever written, and to Vladimir Nabokov's classics Lolita and Pale Fire, with a dash of Remains of the Day thrown in. The book starts out as mere "culinary reflections" by a brilliant, arrogant, pedantic, almost grotesquely loquacious Englishman named Tarquin Winot :
Over the years, many people have pleaded with me to commit to paper my thoughts on the subject of food. Indeed the words 'Why don't you write a book about it?,' uttered in an admittedly wide variety of tones and inflections, have come to possess something of the quality of a mantra--one tending to be provoked by a disquisition of mine on, for instance, the composition of an authoritative cassoulet, or Victorian techniques for baking hedgehogs in clay.
These reflections, structured around specific menus, and presented over the course of a travelogue, are fascinating, as they veer off onto obscure tangents, and slyly funny, as Winot completely dominates the book with his distinctive voice and maddeningly egotistical monologues. But the reader quickly comes to distrust him and eventually to suspect his motives. He is after all traveling in disguise, seems to be following a young couple, and reveals the unfortunate ends met by his brother, a famous artist, and several others over the course of his life. These facts, combined with the elitist morality he espouses, raise some uncomfortable questions about what exactly Mr. Winot is up to here.
Unlike Pale Fire or Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis, in the end there's not much doubt left about the central events of the novel. Mr.
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Format: Paperback
If you like dark comedies and find culinary arts even the least bit interesting, read this marvelous first novel from John Lanchester.
I truly wish I could tell you that John Lanchester's _The Debt to Pleasure_ is a 5 star wonder, but I just can't. Lanchester's protagonist and narrator, Tarquin Winot, certainly pans the breadth of the author's vocabulary, erudition, and culinary knowledge, and _Debt_ is a spectacular premier effort.
Reading through the first few chapters, I noticed a certain similarity to Nabokov's _Pale Fire_. Unfortunately, the novel ultimately fails to deliver on this early promise. Like _Pale Fire_, the story that the narrator tells and the story the he intends to tell are clearly at odds with one another, and though Lanchester manages to juggle this dichotomy successfully throughout much of the novel, he lets the shoe fall a bit early. Well before the end, the trail is too clearly marked out for us. The trip is pleasant, but the plot is already resolved except for the details of how who did what to whom. Quite unlike Nabokov's masterwork of insinuative commentary, Tarquin ends the novel by tying up the entire plot in a package that is at once too neat and too heavy.
Overall, Lanchester succeeds when Tarquin is strong and fails when Tarquin is foolish. To be more precise, Lanchester fails when he loses control of Tarquin's secrecy and subtlety (as when he describes his clownish attire or when he rationalizes his actions in his explication to the biographer near the end of the novel) and succeeds when Tarquin is most thoroughly and ludicrously in control (when he elucidates his belief that only lesser artists actually create anything or when he passes culinary judgment upon damn near anything at all).
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Format: Paperback
John Lanchester gives us a study in pretentiousness, self-denial and deranged envy that would sit proudly on any psychologist's bookshelves, while keeping the reader gripped in this most unusual novel.

Part travelogue, part diary, part recipe book... wholly entertaining. All that and elements of a whodunnit turned on its head make this one of the most interesting books you'll read for a long time.

What starts off, apparently, as the snobbish diary of a nobody becomes compelling very quickly in ways the reader certainly doesn't expect. The dark humour is perfectly observed and often laugh-out-loud funny; the meticulously-concocted (and utterly convincing) recipes make for mouth-watering platforms of action and opinionated soap-boxing by the main character; the hints at a murky past leave you curious to find out just what is going on as Tarquin Winot travels south on what appears to be some sort of quest; the plot drives forward through unconventional means until you're utterly engaged by the insane thoughts of one of modern fiction's most devilishly intriguing creations.

The Debt To Pleasure is not a conventional novel. The narrative does not develop along conventional lines. The fascination is not always for what happens next but rather for what is going on in Tarquin Winot's mind, and how to unravel his deluded understanding of his past, his relationship to those around him and his philosophy of life from what might, by the rest of us, be called 'the truth'. The story is written in the first-person, and that person is clearly bonkers.

An easy read, it works on many levels, entertaining, enthralling and inviting us into the mind of a man who can't distinguish invention from reality, or even right from wrong. The past, desires, hatred, envy, unfulfilled ambition, sibling rivalry and the amorality of a psychopath are used like ingredients in a dish that leaves you with a very satisfying aftertaste.
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