Customer Review

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Maddening at Times Upon Revisiting, September 19, 2009
This review is from: The Gastronomical Me (Paperback)
Having read this years ago -- and many other of M.F.K. Fisher's works over the years -- I found The Gastronomical Me to be a bit of a mixed bag, and a bit of a disappointment upon re-reading it in 2009.

Mrs. Fisher's work is like a maddening jigsaw puzzle, with bits of stories glossed over in one book, only to be written about again and fleshed out in more detail in another. Here, for instance, just when we're getting interested in her life with Chexbres (Dillwyn Parrish) we turn the page and read he's died -- the entire thing and his reasons for committing suicide glossed over, and in fact much of their life together glossed over. Then the book ends with a sequence in Mexico, the entire Crying Game-like reveal of which is too small to justify so much space in the book (hence I found it a weak ending, and terribly tedious to trudge through).

While initially charmed with the descriptions of life as a young couple in Dijon and the historical details of what that life was like (communal bathrooms and showers for the village people, making due with little more than a gas ring for a kitchen, some of the characters met along the way, and so on), upon re-reading this and acknowledging these elements (often referred to as the "travel memoir" genre today), what's left beyond seems a collection of sometimes pointless reminiscences that are sometimes maddeningly compressed while at other times maddeningly drawn out (and usually in the exact opposite places you want them to be).

Overall, one senses that while making her living as a writer who essentially shared her reminiscences with the world for money, Mrs. Fisher always had a great reluctance to actually open up about herself and share the details of her life that would have made for a compelling (and cohesive) narrative; and yet at times in the book there are sections that can make you overlook that, and where her talent is clear.

All in all a mixed bag, worth a look, but in the end ... maddening.

What was charming as one of the early travel memoir-style authors at a time when few existed begs the question of whether Mrs. Fisher's writing will be at all relevant in years to come now that the genre has exploded, and everyone who dreams of buying a house in a foreign land deigns to finance their dream by writing their version of the same story. Frankly, while I enjoy the historical detail in Mrs. Fisher's work, I had a LOT more fun reading Annie Hawes' Extra Virgin and its's sequel, Ripe for the Picking.
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