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The Epicure's Lament: A Novel Hardcover – February 17, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (February 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767910303
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767910309
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #360,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Christensen's two previous novels (Jeremy Thrane; In the Drink) were delightfully believable, sympathetic contemporary narratives filled with wry humor and appealing protagonists. Here she ups the ante, with loftier literary aspirations and succeeds masterfully. As a young man, Hugo Whittier dreamed of being a published poet and essayist. Now 40, with a string of failures behind him, he sits self-exiled at Waverly, the family home on the Hudson River, dryly churning out autobiographical notebooks while smoking fast and furiously enough to ensure his rapid, inevitable demise (he is suffering from Buerger's disease, "almost certainly terminal in patients who keep smoking"). Christensen keeps the entire work moving briskly with delicious sardonic wit ("More and more, as I contemplate my death, it strikes me as vital in some way to hedge my bets. These fragments here... I leave in lieu of a life's work, a series of achievements") as well as infectious, detailed references to M.F.K. Fisher's food writing and essayist Michel de Montaigne, who is the novel's chief inspiration. Throughout, narcissistic, put-upon Hugo is pulled into the lives of others, mostly family members, who suddenly descend upon him and disrupt his otherwise placid, predictable existence: the wife he hasn't seen in 10 years who seeks reconciliation, the on-the-verge-of-divorce older brother, the violin-playing 10-year-old who may or may not be his daughter, his "Fag Uncle Tommy" and even a hit man originally hired to kill him during his wild young gigolo, drug-dealing days. All have gravitated to the family residence by the novel's end, providing him with substantial material for meditations on art, God, pedophilia, justifiable homicide and his obsession with sex, among other topics. It all works because Christensen has created in Hugo an altogether appealing, irascible antihero, along the lines of Grady Tripp in Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys or Doug Willis in David Gates's Preston Falls. This is an impressive tome, one that tickles the funny bone and feeds the mind.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Hugo Whittier is a 40-year-old misanthrope who lives alone at Waverly, his family estate. He smokes incessantly despite the fact that he's been diagnosed with Buerger's disease, which, if he continues to smoke, will kill him. Hugo's protracted suicide is disrupted when his older brother Dennis arrives to live with him. Dennis is fleeing his failed marriage to Marie and wrestling with his feelings for Marie's married best friend, Stephanie. When Hugo meets Stephanie, not only does he tell her Dennis isn't in love with her but he also sleeps with her. And then a letter arrives from Hugo's estranged wife, Sonia, announcing that she and their daughter (whom he believes is not actually his child) are coming to live at Waverly as well. What's a curmudgeon to do? Hugo reluctantly begins to plan a grand Christmas dinner for this unlikely assembly and also plans to take his own life to escape the pain of his disease. Unexpectedly charming in some places, absolutely dastardly in others, Hugo is an utterly unforgettable character. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

This book is funny, charming, and very well written.
It's books such as this one that move me, they make my insides tremble and hands shake in anticipation of what is going to happen next.
- Kasia S.
In a way he's like J.D. Salinger's immortal Holden, cynical yet with a little softness under all the crust.
E. A Solinas

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
He's Holden Caulfield.... twenty-five years, one failed marriage and two abandoned novels later. Kate Christensen cooks up a morbidly funny story in "An Epicure's Lament," full of food and dysfuction with a dash of very twisted sentimentality. Sprinkle with cynicism, and let simmer.

Upper-crust, middle-aged Hugo was once a gigolo and an aspiring writer, but now he spends his days in a decayed mansion, cooking and reading essays by Michel de Montaigne, and occasionally having flings with young women. He has Buerger's disease, which is not fatal unless he smokes -- so he smokes a lot. But his life is turned upside down when his brother Dennis arrives, in the throes of a divorce.

Worse yet, Hugo's estranged wife Sonia is coming to stay with him, along with her daughter Bellatrix, who was born when they were together -- but isn't his daughter. Hugo is not too pleased by this, but he starts to like his not-daughter Bellatrix. Called on to create a Christmas feast for his fractured, dysfunctional family, ex-paramours and a former hit man, Hugo learns a bit about himself as he prepares for suicide.

No, it doesn't sound like a funny book. And it isn't. Not in a slapsticky, goofy way, anyway. Instead it's the morbid, deadpan humor that wins us over, wrapped up in Hugo's wonderfully self-centered thoughts. "Lately I'm finding myself increasingly embedded in other people's lives, which nauseates me and fills me with fear," he muses at one point.

But though I doubt he'd admit it, Hugo changes over the course of the book -- he gets a bit softer and more accepting. He still ponders rough sex, food, homicide, hypocrisy and writing -- yet he tries to deal with a local pedophile, and forms a bond with Bellatrix. In a way he's like J.D.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Krichman on May 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
One of the most impressive feats in writing is perfectly capturing an authentic, original voice. It's what separates the best novels from the pretty good and the most memorable characters from the soon forgotten. In this novel, we have one of the most authentic, original voices to come along in quite a while. And what is most impressive about this one is that it is a male voice written by a female author - an accomplishment that is rarely achieved with such precision as it is here.

There is so much to love about this novel. It is a thinking-person's novel, a novel of ideas and intellectual meanderings. It asks deep questions about life and its meaning, about relationships, about the juxtaposition of the inherent strengths and frailties of the human mind and body. And it offers a main character who thinks he has all the answers, a character who thinks he is smarter than you and me and yet still finds a way to make us love him.

Why is Hugo such a hero? He is a recluse, a misanthrope, a nicotine addict, an arrogant ass, a thoughtless brother, and a spiteful husband. He uses people for his convenience but feels no obligation to offer anything in return. And he is dishonest and deceitful, with others and (more importantly) with himself. But we love him because at his core he is the most human of humans, beautifully flawed in complex, nuanced ways.

Besides the engrossing main character, this novel achieves greatness through a masterful use of the anti-climax. We know from page one that Hugo intends to die, and that it will happen sooner rather than later.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By - Kasia S. VINE VOICE on July 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How can one even begin to describe the symphony of words and ideas that this brilliant author has woven into a magnificent tale of life, love and the true meaning of having control over any of it? It's books such as this one that move me, they make my insides tremble and hands shake in anticipation of what is going to happen next. Even before I got to the end it struck me that this was the best book I have ever read, my favorite novel; spicy, cynical, opulent, and extremely witty. I guess I can sympathize with the main character, Hugo Whitter, a writer and self proclaimed hermit, lover of solitude because I used to feel the same way growing up. I wanted to be left alone to read and write and to lose myself in my own thoughts, I never ended up living in the desert, might have something to do with the fact that I love cold weather, but I could clearly see Hugo's reluctance to let his friends and family back into his life, or what was left of it to enjoy what ever desires he decided to indulge in, mostly staring at the trees outside his window, cooking grand meals, writing in his journal and courting women that perhaps were not really his to have.

This is a very luxurious and sensuous book, marred with ideas and desires of infinite proportions.
Hugo Witter is an old man inside a still young to the world forty year old body, suffering from an addiction to smoking which is killing him through Buerger's disease as its speedily threatening to claim his life.
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