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The Debt to Pleasure
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The Debt to Pleasure

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  2,028 Ratings  ·  304 Reviews
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 1996
A Voice Literary Supplement Best 25 of 1996
Winner of the Whitbread Award for Best First Novel
Long-listed for the Booker Prize
Paperback, 272 pages
Published March 15th 1997 by Holt Paperbacks (first published 1996)
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Ian "Marvin" Graye
Not Your Typical Lad

This is an odd little book, but one that is hugely rewarding.

There is a trend in English writing towards "lad lit", by way of imitation of "chick lit".

Most chick lit that I’ve read (e.g., Kathy Lette – nobody does upwardly mobile English bourgeois quite like an Australian) seems to be at home in its genre, whereas most lad lit seems to me to be lost in imitation, as if the author was writing down to this level, while waiting to be discovered and offered the opportunity to wri
Nov 12, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nancy by: John Laferriere
I wanted to love this book. It was highly recommended by a co-worker who is one of only a few passionate readers I know in real life. The writing style was elaborate and pretentious, the sentences overlong, rambling and wordy. Many passages were darkly humorous and the food descriptions were mouth-watering. The main character was clearly disturbed. If you are paying enough attention (I wasn't always), then you will find clues early on as to how disturbed he is. Yet, I am not interested enough in ...more
May 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-novels
Quirky and inventive novel, which is well worth the effort of persisting with the pompous and irritating narrator. Tarquin Winot is a foodie and is not all that he seems. The blurb on the back of the book indicates that. Also anyone who changes hia name from Rodney to Tarquin does have identity problems. It is a sort of Mrs Beeton meets American Psycho.
The food talk is actually very interesting and Lanchester clearly knows his stuff (he ought to as he has been a restaurant critic for the Observ
Rebecca Foster
Tarquin Winot, the snobby Francophile who narrates John Lanchester’s debut novel, has a voice reminiscent of Oliver in Julian Barnes’s Talking It Over and Love etc. His opinionated, verbose speech provides much of the book’s wit. “This is not a conventional cookbook,” the first line warns, but a foodie’s tribute to the traditional English and French dishes that compose the best seasonal menus. For winter he suggests blinis with sour cream and caviar, Irish stew and Queen of Puddings. Spring prom ...more
Sep 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food-fiction
One of my favorite books of all time - the writing is wonderful, as long as you are okay with a tendency toward the stream-of-consciousness style and the use of a lot of big words. As off-putting as that may sound, Lanchester never misuses words - I just had to mention it because a friend said this is why he didn't like the book. So yes there are some words you MAY have to look up.

I go back and re-read this book all the time. He gets the tone of the effete foodie just right.
Sep 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read about this book on the web as I was googling Iain Pears; what a lucky coincidence! This is an incrediby original and engrossing book; a monologue by one of the most colorful, eccentric and deranged fictional characters I have come across in a very long time. The narrator is a food critic and incidentally a madman, with an irresistible sense of humor, quite a combination. He peppers his life narrative with some interesting recipes and menus. Of course, as he gets caught up in his story, th ...more
Jul 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
For many years I would have told anyone who would listen that this was my favorite book, or at least one of my favorite books, of all time. I'm sure if you unearthed my ancient, cobwebbed MySpace profile (even my FRIENDSTER profile, for God's sake) this book would have been front and center in my "What I Like" area. That said, I realized recently it had been over a decade since I read it last and I should probably check in and see if I even liked it at all anymore.

Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a delicious, sick, twisted, and unique book this was. Let me try to describe: OK first of all, it is a work of fiction (I mean, I sure hope it is!!). It's a psychological expose, wrapped in a memoir, wrapped in a cookbook.

Got that?

It sounds like it makes no sense, but it all fits together once you get into it. The narrator thinks he's writing a cookbook, but he admits up front that there are liberal amounts of memoir thrown in there... stories about his childhood, his current life, his thou

There is next to nothing I can say about this book without dropping spoilers.

It's so dark and disturbing that I would usually say it isn't my kind of story at all. And yet it's so incredibly well done, and so sneaky in how it introduces and builds its full seamy horror, that I can only bow down before John Lanchester in deep admiration. Ten years after reading it, I can recall the mood, the narrative tone, and some images I'll probably never forget.

So perhaps read at your own risk -- but I hig
Oct 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Debt to Pleasure by John Lancaster was an accidental type of book. Something that you just stumble across. It’s not the type of book that you frequently hear being recommended, which is disappointing to me.

I guess I should warn you, the book is about food but it is also about horror. Two subjects I find that are often blended together. This is a revenge tale, but a beautiful one. Like a fancy cake that you are almost afraid to touch so as not to disturb the art and love that went into it.

Stephen Redwood
I found the extreme erudition irritating and making progress felt like running through mud, until my denseness caught up with the irony. This is written in the 1st person by the egocentric, self-absorbed, bombastically intellectual main character, Tarquin Winot. The hyper sophistication of the writing is wrapped around Tarquin's obsession with food and cuisine and the unfolding exposition of his life story. Each chapter has a meal choice at its centre, with some fascinating insights into foods a ...more
Lara Maynard
May 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
The design of the 1996 hardcover with jacket Canadian edition from McClelland & Stewart is the reason that I picked this book up from amongst the volumes on a big bookstore sales table some years ago. Kudos to the book designer and to the jacket designer, both.

I had this novel on my shelf then for several years, but once I finally took a few bites, I ate it up! The writing, the narrator, the design: it's the best kind of a "full meal deal."

One might think the narrator a pompous, boorish ass
Steev Hise
Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Steev by: i wish i could remember
Shelves: fun, own-it, food
This novel really has an odd arc to it. It starts out as an almost plotless meditation on fancy food and cooking. Then it gradually, very gradually, becomes the story of a scary, diabolical sociopath. As someone recently more and more interested in fine cuisine and the culinary arts, it was challenging but not overly so to make it through the first 170 pages or so of the gourmet musings of the narrator. And then it starts getting really juicy, though still full of ever so erudite foodstuff trivi ...more
Aug 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book! Which is hilarious and surprising and full of the longest sentences you've read since grad school. The attitudinal narrator loves digression and starts many an assertion that is interrupted with clause after modifying clause, going on and on until when the object of the sentence finally arrives - as often as not I had to go back to see where it had begun, because by then I'd forgotten. If you find that sort of thing annoying, you'll probably hate this book. I liked it. And he's ...more
Jim Coughenour
Jul 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: darkandfunny
Imagine Jean-Anthelme Brillat Savarin (author of The Physiology of Taste) crossed with Nabokov's Charles Kinbote and you may come up with someone like Tarquin Winot, Francophile food editor and fabulously insane narrator of this deliciously evil little gem. I envy the aficionado of comic fiction who hasn't yet experienced its pleasures.
Jan 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
pretentious, rambling, elaborate so says one reviewer. I prefer the other reviewer who says: dark and sensuous and beautiful and sinister. It's about food and stuff.
Sep 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my greatest pleasures is eating, so I must cook. I savour, therefore I cook. I like tasty food made with fresh ingredients that address all four of our tastes – salt, sour, sweet and bitter – to create a complementary whole. Of course, there is now the fifth taste, unami, the expanding universe within soy sauce, that can amplify other inputs. I have just made an English pie, with chicken, mushrooms, a little diced bacon, seasoning and fresh herbs. It was moistened with stock and an egg be ...more
The false friend has a more general applicability and usefulness than in the purely grammatical sphere.Not least in family life',

Narrated by one Tarquin Winot, a snobbish yet brilliant foodie, as he travels to his home in France, this might seem at first to be nothing more than his musings (and highly entertaining these are) punctuated by recipes. But the reader soon observes a megalomania in Tarquin:
'I myself have always disliked being called a 'genius'. It is fascinating to notice how quick p
Anne Green
I'd been looking forward to reading this book as I'd heard such great reviews about it and I love books about food and fiction, so what's not to like I thought in anticipation. I soon found out. I realised the narrator was meant to be pompous and irritating, I tried to make allowances for the fact that he was clearly designed as an unlikable protagonist. I persisted, looking forward to an upswing in my response to the book. But it didn't happen. I'm not sure why. Lanchester is a very good writer ...more
Dec 14, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2011
Soon after reading 'Mr Phillips' I saw this one in the work tea room "library". I didn't love the afore mentioned book, but familiarity spiked interest.

I didn't love this one either. The mixture of food and death just not at good as I wanted it so be. Tarquin was a total wanker, his droning voice obviously not meant to be particularly likeable, but I found him to be boring and the story as it was to unfold predictable from the initial revelation.
Jan Priddy
Nov 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was simply fun. The tension between what the narrator is saying and what the reader gradually begins to understand is happening was delightful. I read it years ago and still have vivid memories of the story. I love this book.

A quick survey of responses will reveal that others either found it as delightful as I did, or did not.

Prepare to laugh out loud, or be offended, maybe both at once.
Aug 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hip-noir
Wickedly clever...and very much a surprise. I'm not quite sure what to make of this, or how to describe it without spoiling it. Let's just say that you'll never watch Food Network quite the same way again, or read all those books by expat Brits in Provence about the local cuisine without a slight shudder of fear.
Nov 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: other
The narrator is pompous, pretentious, snobbish, a gifted cook, given to long, rambling anecdotes and quite seriously deranged. I found this very funny. I wonder what that says about me.
Sep 02, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This intelligent, sinister novel includes some fantastic food writing. It also uses my favorite literary device of all time: the unreliable narrator.
Josh Friedlander
"You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style," says Humbert Humbert, and there are a number of similarities between him and the hero of this novel, a snobby aesthete, astoundingly knowledgeable, and completely mad. The conceit could have been anyone's, and the story, told in gaps between discussions on food, history, and aesthetics, pretty unimportant. What's great is the execution. Lanchester's impressive depth of food knowledge and general scholarship (I had to keep interrupting ...more
Aug 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a truly satisfying & nutritious banquet of a book,rich in literary protein,packed with poetic vitamins & supplying plenty of earthy carbohydrates too! Its mostly French setting adds picquant flavours to the pot & Lanchester's authorial voice is spicy with humourous asides on life & its singularities; no two appetites are the same,no two tastes are identical.The plot,such as it is,revolves around a slow sojourn with a gourmand/gourmet writer,Tarquin Winot,English & ref ...more
Apr 20, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
At what point does a satirization of artistic vanity and overintellectualized nonsense itself become overintellectualized and nonsensical? I'm not sure, but The Debt to Pleasure crosses that line pretty early on. Reading this book reminded me very much of Nabokov's Lolita, for the comparable protagonists -- each book features a cunning sociopath bent on perpetuating a number of malignant ills, while self-justifying with an aesthete's solipsistic insulation from matters of real import. It also re ...more
Nenad Vukusic
Jul 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First time I read this book, all over food connoisseur movement had not yet started, Jamie Oliver had his first shows but was not a global player and all of the other, now famous cooks, were completely anonymous. I read it on a boat, just as I retired from working as a chef's helper in an Italian restaurant for a few years. It is basically a gourmet travelogue, sort of, trip down the memory smorgasbord of the main character, with recipes and restaurant recommendations, but at some point, about a ...more
Gumble's Yard
Jan 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
The book is narrated by Tarquin Winot as he journeys from the UK to his Provence cottage, tracking two honeymooners as a travelogue based cookery book with musings on seasonal based menus. Written in image filled language with erudite classical references, musings, snobbery and opinionated writing on themes in world cuisine (e.g. fish soups, custards, salads, pies etc.) we also gradually understand Tarquin’s character – part deluded as to his own inadequacies and the reactions of others to him, ...more
Dec 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It took me two tries to get through this novel. The first time, I got bogged down in a very pompous passage about a garden walk with a student the narrator obviously wants to seduce. The second time, I made it through to the latter half of the book which is completely brilliant - and after which the rather ponderous first half not only makes sense but became quite droll. The Debt to Pleasure is absolutely epicurean, rather like the cheese course at a fancy restaurant - it's divine if you have th ...more
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John Lanchester is the author of four novels and three books of non-fiction. He was born in Germany and moved to Hong Kong. He studied in UK. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker and was awarded the 2008 E.M. Forster Award. He lives in London.
More about John Lanchester...
“Mere adequacy is never adequate.” 6 likes
“In all memory there is a degree of fallenness; we are all exiles from our own pasts, just as, on looking up from a book, we discover anew our banishment from the bright worlds of imagination and fantasy. A cross-channel ferry, with its overfilled ashtrays and vomiting children, is as good a place as any to reflect on the angel who stands with a flaming sword in front of the gateway to all our yesterdays.” 5 likes
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