I bought Gourmet Rhapsody with a gift card for my birthday back in October, and didn’t pick it up to read until a few weeks ago. This is the first book I read this year, and it was a great kickoff to my reading year.
Gourmet Rhapsody is actually the first novel written by Muriel Barbery, but it was not translated to English until after the success of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. This novel focuses on food critic, Pierre Artens, who readers of Hedgehog will remember as the person who dies at the beginning of that book (that’s not a spoiler). Gourmet Rhapsody focuses on Pierre’s quest for the perfect meal on his deathbed. The perspective goes back and forth between him and the people around him. He is not a likeable man, and many of the people around him express this in their sections of the novel. His quest for the perfect meal is a literary device to tell the story of his life through his culinary experiences.
I really enjoyed reading Gourmet Rhapsody if only for another taste of Barbery’s writing style. I really enjoyed this quote from one of the children in Pierre’s life who is well aware of the things that all the adults think they are keeping from him:
People think that children don’t know anything. It’s enough to make you wonder if grownups were ever children once upon a time.
While I enjoyed revisiting Barbery’s writing in Gourmet Rhapsody, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much if I hadn’t read The Elegance of the Hedgehog first. My suggestion to anyone who hasn’t read either yet is to read Hedgehog first. It really is the better of the two books, and it will give you an appreciation of her writing in Gourmet Rhapsody.
I urge you to read this interview on Amazon with Barbery. It is an interesting insight into her thoughts about Pierre and her writing process. I like her answer to a question about what her last meal would be:
It’s a very personal and intimate question, indeed. If I write novels, it’s because I need fiction to put what I feel into words. And who knows what one would choose? The imminence of death is an extraordinary and radical counselor.