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The Devil's Larder Hardcover – October 7, 2001

4.2 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (October 7, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374138591
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374138592
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,172,034 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John Van Wagner on April 27, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Go ahead--take a bite. If you believe your tastes are too pedestrian for the gourmet literary feast served up by Jim Crace in "The Devil's Larder", think again. These tiny tales of human beings and their gustatory obsessions contain the full spectrum of flavors for gourmand and epicure alike.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
"The Devil's Larder", by Jim Crace is as inventive as his other works, and while it becomes rather mischievous at times it does not hit the darkest moods that some of his other work has. If you have never read this author the idea that he could present 64 short stories in 165 pages would seem to be a challenge at best, and at least worth questioning the viability of such a work. I started reading his work this year and he is the most unique writer I have encountered in several years. His point of view is fundamentally different from what others seem to see, no matter how familiar a situation, when shared through his pen, it becomes unique.
Before you begin the read look at the cover. Food and its consumption is about as familiar an activity that all people engage in that I can think of. It's true that some make careers of its preparation, and others of enjoying the results of the labor in the kitchen; however eating is not an option. This book explores the myths associated with food, food as art taken to an absurd conclusion, food as revenge, as religion, and as an intimate exchange that takes place when people dine together. He also takes a variety of practices involving food preparation and production that are common every day events, modifies the perception a bit, and radically alters the reader's view.
The stories vary in length and certainly test the traditional limits of what can constitute a tale. The enjoyment and wonder of this man's writing is that he demonstrates that for a writer who has meticulously refined his thoughts, length becomes meaningless. There are quotes in literature, or spoken in the delivery of speech that may contains a handful or words, yet they become familiar to vast numbers of people over centuries or even millennia.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a beautiful little book! I first read Jim Crace with his book Quarantine and I also read Being Dead--a very good book. This book, however, is the best of the lot. Yes, it is brief but its language is beautiful and its themes varied. It is at times funny, thought-provoking, poignant and always lovely.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
My thoughts when only a brief way through The Devil's Larder were that it would be easy pickings. Short bursts of prose, 64 "chapters" in 128 pages meaning that none outstays its welcome. And as always Crace's legends had the tang of truth to them, which displayed considerable talent as they are two removes from truth - myths which aren't even real myths. Very moreish.
... Despite Crace's pre-emptive protests that The Devil's Larder is a novel because it has "unity of theme, unity of style, unity of setting - everything except unity of character," I know a glorified (albeit glorious) book of stories when I see it. And I'm looking at one right now.
However hard you try, it's hard to make people want to read 64 "chapters" in a row - ranging from two words to 10 pages - without either a plot to follow or at least one character to root for, frown upon or squirm with. The problem with The Devil's Larder is that, although some of the stories do contain interesting twists or developments, they're all narrated effectively in parenthesis, the kind of thing that would usually be one character's aside or prehistory, swagged in subquotation marks. There is, to appropriate a crashingly obvious food metaphor (but at least applaud me for keeping them to a minimum), nothing to get your teeth into. At least it's only waffer-theen and won't detain you long.
The Devil's Larder then is fine in small doses, is (what the hell) an aperitif, an appetizer of bite-size chunks for the main courses of Arcadia, Quarantine, Signals of Distress and Being Dead. Chow down on those instead.
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