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The Debt to Pleasure: A Novel Paperback – December 7, 2001
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About the Author
- Publisher : Picador; First edition (December 7, 2001)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0312420366
- ISBN-13 : 978-0312420369
- Item Weight : 11.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #171,555 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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_Debt..._ is an amazing and attractive book asking us about motivations. Questions revolve about Winot's intentions and reasons. We must reconsider Freud or Jung to understand him. This is not a murder mystery but a chronological inquest into why an acutely intelligent, gifted and cultured, pampered and successful gentleman becomes a serial murderer. And further, why society misses obvious clues implicating Lancaster's diabolical culprit.
This brilliant construction forces us to ask important questions, not regarding Winot but about ourselves. Would we do the same in his circumstances? Who has not considered killing? Are our motives less or more than Winot's? Is he correct to downgrade culture and art and instead promote and elevate common killers and massacres to prestige? Should Hitler and Stalin be heroic and replace Matisse and Chuck Close? Without asking (and answering) those questions, Lancaster's provocative punch in the gut leaves you gasping. You must provide answers (and good ones) or be left in his detritus.
It is quite clear that Lancaster has thought this all through very well, and we have not. John Lancaster is a brilliant writer and psychologist. He has a first rate work that is concise and provocative. _Debt to Pleasures_ will take its rightful place in serious fiction.
". . .we are all familar with the after-the-fact tone--weary, self-justificatory, agrieved, apologetic--shared by ship captains appearing before boards of inquiry to explain how they come to run their vessels aground, and by authors composing forewards."
It is "a collection of memories, dreams, reflections, the whole simmering together, synergistically exchanging savors and essences like some ideal daube. This will, I hope, give the book a serendipitous, ambulatory, and yet progressive structure."
"Finally, I have decided that, wherever possible, the primary vehicle for the transmission of my culinary reflections will be the menu. These menus shall be arranged seasonally. It seems to me that the menu lies close to the heart of the human impulse to order, to beauty, to pattern. It draws on the original chthonic upwelling that underlies all art."
"A menu can embody the anthropology of a culture or the psychology of an individual; it can be a biography, a cultural history, a lexicon. . ."
"It can be a way of knowledge, a path, an inspiration, a Tao, an ordering, a memory, a fantasy, a seduction, a prayer, a summoning, an incantation murmured under the breath as the torchlights sink lower and the forest looms taller and the wolves howl louder and the fire prepares for its submission to the encroaching dark."
"I'm not sure that this would be my choice for a honeymoon hotel. The gulls outside my window are louder than motorcycles."
Top reviews from other countries
I loved this novel because I am enthusiastic about food and good writing. It was like reading an erudite Mastering the Art of French Cookery, with the odd blink-and-you’ll-miss-it clues about murder and mischief thrown in between the lines. The author very cleverly shows us the truth, even when Tarquin is saying the complete opposite. A passage that made me laugh early on was when he said that he has “always disliked being called a genius” and that “It is fascinating to notice how quick people have been to intuit this aversion and avoid using the term”.
Keen as I am on food and food writing, I did find some of the long, descriptive passages a bit tiresome and can see how the book might not suit everyone, but as the tension and slow-burning/roasting excitement built towards the end, I would happily have read more, including a sequel or continuing Ripley-like series.
Overall, this was a very funny, dark parody of good food and snobbery with a sinister streak of murder peppered throughout.
Tarquin Wynot, the narrator, is an erudite, snobbish, foodie, psychopathic murderer. Sounds a bit 'Silence of the Lambs'? Not really. Wynot bumps people off for a variety of reasons but never just for fun. His fun he gets from the food and wine he so meticulously describes throughout the novel.
Like Tarquin's cooking, the prose is a fanciful, indulgent, and showy. Often fantastically funny, with a swift pace that still takes time for plenty of impressive asides, I found this unputdownable not necessarily because I wanted to know what happened next, but because I was enjoying myself too much. It is the literary equivalent of a meal in a very good but self-consciously experimental restaurant. You may not want to eat there everyday, you may think some of the combinations were a bit over the top, but you have to admit it was dazzling.
Finally, it is telling that when Lanchester published 'Capital' to much critical fanfare in 2012, this was the book, despite being his first novel and published in the nineties, that several reviewers held up as the measure of his full abilities. Unfortunately, I don't think he's lived up to the potential of 'The Debt to Pleasure' so far, but then it's a very high standard to have set yourself! If you enjoy 'The Debt to Pleasure', the meatier, more homely 'Mr. Phillips' is not a bad second course.
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.
And then you realise the story is so much more than that. The bitter herbs of sibling jealousy provide the motive for the narrator's obsessions - and his machinations.
The language, the recipes, the camouflaged meanings give the book an excitement a more prosaically constructed novel cannot equal. Reading it is a mesmerising joy. I will try other books by this author. It will be fascinating to see if he can equal - or surpass - this outstanding work.