Foodie Book Friday: Gourmet Rhapsody

Muriel Barbery, French author of the bestselling novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog, focuses on the life (and imminent death) of a famous food critic in her sophomore offering, Gourmet Rhapsody. (I read Europa Editions' English translation by Alison Anderson).

On the first page, we are introduced to Pierre Arthens, and in his first person point of view, he claims, "I am the greatest food critic in the world." It is on the next page that we learn that Pierre only has 48 hours to live, and in those hours, he plans to rediscover the flavor that for years has eluded him, the flavor that "holds the key" to his heart. Ironically, it's his failing heart that is leading to his demise.

In chapters that alternate with Pierre's own version of his search, the reader gets brief glimpses into his character via the voices of people who know him - relatives, acquaintances, the concierge in his building, lovers, even a statue of Venus, and a cat. And on page after page, there are gratifying descriptions of food that are so exquisitely detailed that you think you can smell and taste it through the page. Rhapsody indeed.

This is a gorgeously written novel that challenges the reader to think - not just about food, but about the meaning of life. As Pierre himself attests, "The question is not one of eating, nor is it one of living; the question is knowing why."

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