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The Epicure's Lament Paperback – January 25, 2005
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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It's an odd thing to say you loved a book that is populated by distasteful characters, but that is indeed how I feel about this book. I have just ordered 3 more of the author's books and am anxious to read more of her expressions.
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. With each chapter the reader gets an urgent sense that Hugo's time is running out, he's unhappily welcoming his brother Dennis back to their childhood home after a stormy disruption of his marriage, his estranged wife Sonia and possibly not really his child Bellatrix are looming on the horizon with a visit, first one in ten years and his own love life is tangled up between female acquaintances and wives of people he can't stand. Disrupted from his peaceful life he stirs up plenty of heat between the family members, trying to get them out of his life, instead getting more and more involved with the outside world and the yearning for self imposed eternal released of this burden called life. Blatantly honest, raw and lovable, Hugo is a flawed but a charismatic and charming character, I was blown away by the sheer fact that the author who created such a strong man is indeed a woman, one that made this family black sheep into one of my favorite literary characters of all time. As the family ties get more complicated with Hugo's involvement the reader starts dreading his open talks about suicide, and the unnerving way in which he starts to plan his departure, the last meal, last family gathering with cool blood and lack of dramatization. It's almost unbearable until the end comes, I was stunned and fulfilled by it, only feeling devastated that the book was over.
The writing is refreshing, interesting and it fed my mind the entire time I was plugged into the book. I may need to read it again very soon or I will seriously have Hugo withdrawals, the things he said and thought of were mind bogging and magnificent. I laughed a lot and also gasped but this book rocked, there was no descriptive filler, the words were jewels and pearls and each as rich as the next. Reviewing this book is almost impossible, to say what this book meant to me would take ages but I'm in total awe of this author now; I hope she will continue her career as a writer for as long as possible, she's my new hero. This book might not be for everyone but that is perfectly fine with me, it's subtle with the plot but so rich in actions and words spoken, there is no transparency and clichés here but pure genius, if you see it then you're lucky, enjoy!
- Kasia S.
Please take my advice and read this book. When you do, tell Hugo that I say hello and quickly bum a smoke. Trust me, the conversation that ensues will be well worth the assault on your lungs.