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The Devil's Larder Hardcover – October 7, 2001
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In The Devil's Larder, Jim Crace has put together an odd and artful little volume that encompasses more of the human experience than it really ought to, given its size and scope. Crace presents us with 64 short fictions about food, which add up to a picture of life that is at once diabolical and innocent, creepily sexualized and free of judgment. In one fable, a mother and her small daughter twist their tongues together, ferreting out the food in each other's mouths: they want to know if food tastes the same from another person's tongue. A game of strip fondue ends with guests covered in burns where the molten cheese has fallen onto their naked flesh. "A gasp of pain. The whiff of sizzling flesh and hair and cheese." Flesh and cheese, that's the stuff. Crace shows us the odd outer limits of desire, and revels in the sheer weirdness of the daily act of eating. --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
The line between nature and culture, according to Levi-Strauss, runs through our kitchens between the raw and the cooked. In Crace's book of 64 food fables, the raw and the cooked are sequenced in sometimes bizarre ways: a woman remembers her mother's version of "soup stone," its magic ingredient a stone found on the seashore; a famous restaurant in an isolated Third World locale becomes chic by supplying appetizers of "soft-bodied spiders, swag beetles, forest roaches" and, as a main dish, the famous Curry No. 3, which is rumored to contain human meat; researchers discover a food additive that causes sudden, unmotivated laughter and try it out at a waterfront restaurant on unsuspecting tourists. The gnomic pronouncements that often initiate these stories caan be strained. Not only is it not true that "there is no greater pleasure than to be expected at a meal and not arrive," it is not the kind of claim that leads us into an interesting paradox or thought experiment. Other pieces are successful at evoking the powerful childhood associations of food. A story about a boy whose neighbor becomes a suburban Thoreau, living outside, angling in a river, excreting on what he grows and then eating it and handing it out to be eaten by others, expresses elegantly the child's perception of the alien as both frightening and perversely fascinating. These fables are five-finger exercises simple, enjoyable, but lacking in depth. (Oct.)Forecast: Crace's previous novel, Quarantine, won the Whitbread Award, and Being Dead won a National Book Critics Circle Award. His latest is a diversion, but its subject matter and elegant jacket art may appeal to those who know Crace by reputation but were scared away by the grimmer themes of Quarantine and Being Dead.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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It's this accessibility that makes Crace one of the most evocative writers of short fiction working today. While it may seem a highbrow undertaking to prepare sixty four miniature stories about food and serve them as a meal, the book never exudes an air of snobbery or literary exclusiveness. Food, in Crace's rendering, is the most democratizing element in the world, through which people and their secrets can be rolled back like a slowly opening can of sardines.
The stories' brevity is their most astonishing strength. With words sprinkled with loving artistry over the pages like ingredients in a souffle, each tale evokes a passion, a pain, a longing, a regret, which many novelists fail to capture in work thousands of times as long. And, while of course each story stands on its own, the thematic integrity of the work makes it feel like a complete five course feast, disguised as a banquet of delectable one-bite hors-d'oeuvres.
What is an aubergine? A rose hip? A cheroot? The author might not expect his readers to know, but to imagine. And it's in daring us to imagine that Crace, a master-chef of the English language, leaves us with a greater sense of who we are and what we might become.
It is not, in fact, a novel but rather 64 short vignettes. As the title implies, the connecting theme throughout the stories is the appearance of food in one way or another. I had thought that I might point out what some of the better vignettes are but they are all so good and they are so varied that I can't pick just a few to discuss without denigrating others without reason.
This is a very short book that can easily be read in one sitting so give it a try. Then, once you've read it once, go back and read it again, bit by bit. It's worth it.