When I was a little girl, I was a Little House on the Prairie fan. But the book I read the cover off of (and then lovingly taped back on with duct tape) was Farmer Boy. Because that was when I first discovered how absolutely incredible it is to read about lovingly rendered descriptions of food. I also suspect this is why I insisted on reading so much of the Redwall series even though it was formulaic as hell. (The food, dear readers, the food!)
Muriel Barbary also completely won me over with The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a book that made me want to read Anna Karenina because characters I loved thought it was worth their time, and the ending of which made me sob uncontrollably. (I was on a plane at the time. My seat mate was probably massively uncomfortable with me. I tend to be an ugly crier. Let’s just say there was a lot of snot and gasping involved.) So when I saw she’d written a book about a food critic, let’s just say I was champing at the bit for this one.
Gourmet Rhapsody is a slim volume written from a variety of perspectives, and tells the story of a famous food critic who is dying. About half of the chapters are written in the voice of the critic reflecting on his past meals, searching for that final taste he wants to revisit before he dies. The rest are told from the point of view of those who surround him — a cast of people who tend to resent him, think he’s an awful person, and actively want him to die. He’s an egotistical perfectionist who has a larger-than-life personality, and that makes it kind of difficult to empathize with him or see things from his point of view.
I came for the descriptions of the food, and there were certain parts of the book that did not disappoint — the blissful description of sushi, the careful reconstruction of what makes a sorbet so intoxicating… I appreciated that part. And the people connected to the food were likewise interesting, and richly described (unlike, say, his own children and wife). Unfortunately, there were parts of the book that left me cold — I suppose part of the point was to have a food critic so obsessed with his past and his food that he fails to dwell on the people immediately around him — but I found myself wanting more. Also, some of the alternating perspectives were just a little bit too cutesy for me. (One of them was written by a cat.)
This was a quick read, and had some good pieces to it, but it fell short of what I was hoping for.