Jean-Marie Charles d'Aumout is wees, aristocraat, militair, spion en held van de Verlichting. Maar bovenal is hij chef. Smaak begint als de kleine Jean-Marie zich, na de dood van zijn ouders in leven houdt met kraakverse kevers. Dankzij geluk, een dapper hart en een scherpe geest groeit hij uit tot diplomaat. Hij wordt zelfs eigenaar van de meest decadente menagerie uit de Franse geschiedenis. Zijn allesoverheersende obsessie met eten geeft Jean-Marie's leven een magische lading, van zijn lachwekkende correspondentie met Voltaire en de Marquis de Sade, tot zijn rol in de val van de republiek Corsica waar hij op zoek is naar zeldzame kaassoorten. Terwijl in Frankrijk de revolutie nadert, zoekt Jean-Marie onverschrokken verder naar de ultieme smaakbeleving. Is het slangenbouillabaisse of toch gepekeld wolvenhart? Smaak is het verhaal van een achttiende-eeuwse foodie, met als zenuwslopende climax de Franse revolutie met een fantastisch feestmaal. Jonathan Grimwood heeft met deze smakelijke en geurige roman een hoofdstuk uit de Franse geschiedenis op een compleet nieuwe manier tot leven gebracht.
Jon Courtenay Grimwood was born in Malta and christened in the upturned bell of a ship. He grew up in the Far East, Britain and Scandinavia. Apart from novels he writes for national newspapers including the Times, Telegraph, Independent and Guardian. Jon is two-time winner of the BSFA Award for Best Novel, with Felaheen, and End of the World Blues. His literary novel, The Last Banquet, as Jonathan Grimwood, was shortlisted for Le Prix Montesquieu 2015. His work is published in fifteen languages. He is married to the journalist and novelist Sam Baker.
Jonathan Grimwood is, of course, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, SF author of The End of the World Blues, among others. I must say I was quite ambivalent about this. It is intriguing and well written, but just did not take fire for me.
Grimwood falls into the common trap of historical fiction (and certain SF, coming to think of it) of deploying his main protagonist more as a mouthpiece than a flesh-and-blood character, as a means to explore a world, in this case pre-Revolution France, and in particular Versailles and the King’s court. The world-building is the strongest aspect here, with Grimwood having a painterly eye for detail, imagery and sensuous description.
Unfortunately, throughout it all Jean-Marie remains much of a cipher, more an onlooker in his own incredible journey from orphan to epicurean than a vital participant. It would also have added much-needed period heft to the novel if historical personages such as Voltaire and Marquis de Sade were not name-dropped, but appeared as flesh-and-blood characters.
This reminded me strongly of Pure by Andrew Miller. I was curious as to how Grimwood would end the novel, and must say I was quite pleased at the blend of elegiac horror and nostalgia he achieves. It is only here, at the bitter end, where Jean-Marie truly becomes alive. Still, this is a great novel from one of the genre’s most talented writers and fearless experimenters.
Bloated. Terribly bloated & over long. This book needed an editor to prune it by about 100 pages. The opening scenes of the narrator as a young child eating beetles? Great, evocative, & hope-giving that this would continue to be a provocative & interesting yarn. But sadly, no. No, it was a well-written boring book with a first person narrator I cared nothing about....I never managed to get a grip on his character or any reason why I should give two figs about what happens to him. It was one of those disappointing books where it started out terrific but just got worse & worse until I found myself skimming the last 100 pages in hopes that it'd do *something*, go *somewhere*. It wasn't even a book about food or "taste"...& that made it disappointing, I didn't learn anything, I didn't experience anything...& you know what's worse? Neither did the main character. The walk away is that lots of stuff "tastes like chicken"....gee, thanks. Whatever. If you get this book for free; read it. The beginning scenes are wonderful; his time at school is interesting...& then it's steadily downhill from there.
We meet Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumont in 1723, the child of a noble family, indebted and starved. The child’s odd sense of taste, brought on by hunger for survival, comes to the attention of the Regent and some nobles who find him crunching happily on stag beetles … beetles taste of what they eat. This Jean-Marie knows – everything edible tastes of what it eats or takes from the soil. Just smelling things makes his mouth water. His parents are dead – the villagers who ransack the crumbling castle to retrieve what they had loaned, are hanged. Set in the decades before the French Revolution, there was one law for peasants and another for nobles.
This story is about hunger for more – peasants to fill their stomach, the aristocracy to gain influence and respect, and for Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumont, the hunger for ever new tastes to satisfy his sensitive and yearning palate. The recording of subtle smells and flavours, including sexual ones, weaves a sensuous thread through Jean-Marie’s diary-like narrative.
His theory is that a woman could be brought to bed, a man made to fight, quarrels forced or mended simply by selecting the right food. When meat is unpalatable, as in a three-snake bouillabaisse, he drowns it in herbs and spices. In the end – most meat tastes like chicken. Jean-Marie lives through his senses, but observes the people around him with curious detachment. He’s pragmatic, knows the 'nothing-is-enough' decadent lifestyle of a monarchy he doesn't care for can’t last. Yet he too is obsessed with more – more tastes. His search for tastes, while at times revolting, is tempered by a surreal edge that often made me laugh out loud. Though pragmatic, his character shows plenty of tenderness too, notably with animals. In the way he prepares and eats creatures they become sanctified.
Come 1790, the revolution arrives at the gates of Jean-Marie’s castle. And the relationship with his blind pet-tiger, rescued from the royal menagerie, and his last friend, assumes a bizarre significance – Jean-Marie’s kind of love.
I gobbled up the occasionally brilliant writing. And no, I'm not hungry for any of the grotesque recipes in this novel, though they serve admirably to symbolise a yearning that is never fulfilled.
Нека първо да се изкажа за сравнението на тази книга с "Парфюмът" на Зюскинд. Няма нищо, ама нищо общо!!! В "Парфюмът" се срещаме с неописуем патологичен случай, причиняващ вреда и мъка на всичко и всеки около себе си, докато тук нашият герой е изтъкан от желание за промяна и то положителна промяна в живота си. Късметът го изоставя още в най-крехка детска възраст, когато случайни благодетели го откриват, ядящ бръмбари до порутената си и изоставена къща, в която родителите му - благородници, са умрели от глад. От там насетне, историята на Жан-Мари д'Ому, с важната благородническа представка пред фамилията, е низ от щастливи случайности, които му осигуряват живота, на който се радва дълги години. Само че това не е достатъчно.
Не е достатъчно да си с добри намерения, пък макар и с малко странен вкус за нещата. Особено за храната. Нали казват, че това което ядем, определя същността ни? Е, не може да се опитваш да вкусиш от всяко нещо и накрая да не си навлечеш проблеми. Просто не става.
Живот, белязан от загубата и инстинкта за оцеляване, минал през трудностите на първото приятелство и затвърждаването на позициите, особено във време на политически промени в просвещенска Франция. Живот, толкова образен и наситен с вкусове и човешки съдби, колкото и апетитът на главния герой с идеи за непознати и неизследвани вкусови усещания. Странни ще ви се видят някои неща, но ви съветвам да продължите да четете, за да разберете до къде води прекаленото вманиачаване по някои все пак тленни, макар и необходими неща като храната.
С упадъка на една държава, към упадък се насочва и нашият герой, макар и още да не го знае. Постоянните намеци от негова страна, че в даден момент не е знаел какво ще се случи, карат читателя да продължава да се рови в историята на този необикновен човек, с необикновени вкусове, в чието изграждане всъщност има роля и заобикалящия го свят.
Кръгът се затваря с Френската революция, която слага край на благородничеството и на целия познат досега начин на живот, който отстъпва място на създаването на новата история на Франция, в която могат да участват само тези, които са склонни да се променят и да започнат нов живот. Всички други са излишни.
Интересна, многопластова и загадъчна книга - точно като изтънчено ястие, чиито съставки не можете да разпознаете веднага. Тези съставки ще ви изненадат, може би и погнусят в моментите, в които прозрете какво се крие зад опияняващи�� вкус, но ще продължите да опитвате, защото вече ще сте пристрастени.
The first time I noticed Jonathan Grimwood’s The Last Banquet was when I saw it up on NetGalley several weeks ago and I thought about how cool the cover was. For some reason I cast it aside, telling myself I already have plenty of books to read. Weeks pass, and reviews from a few bloggers I trust for recommendations pop up, drowning the book in praise. I checked back on NetGalley to find that it was archived and no longer available and that it wasn’t published in the US. My path led me to The Book Depository, where I found a signed first edition hardcover of the book for $15. I’m pretty frugal when it comes to buying hardcovers, so it was definitely an impulse buy. Once in a while impulse buys pay off, and The Last Banquet paid off in full and more.
Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumont is first and foremost a chef. Even the title chef is a gross understatement. Jean-Marie is a connoisseur on an adventure to taste as many different things as he can in his lifetime. The story opens up and we find Jean-Marie as an orphan sitting by a dung heap munching on beetles. With each beetle consumed, he notes that they often taste like what they’d consumed prior to being eaten. There’s a very wry, subtle humor throughout the story, and it shines in the beginning where Jean-Marie eats a beetle before a nearby man can ask him to share, as if everyone eats beetles.
Jean-Marie will eat anything he can get his hands on – frog, loris, snake, dog, cat, lion, you name it, he’s eaten it, raw or cooked. Intermittently throughout the book, Grimwood has placed entries of Jean-Marie’s cookbook, including ingredients, steps to cook said meal, and what the meal tastes like. Funnily enough, more often than not the meal tastes like chicken, and he reasons that if he’d been weaned on mutton, most meals would taste like mutton, and if he’d been weaned on venison, most would taste so, and so on. d’Aumont is a particular proponent of cheese, moldy and not, and he beautifully describes his favorite, Roquefort, in saying
“It tasted as I remembered, of mould and horses’ hooves clipping on brick and dung beetles and sun.”
Not only does Jean-Marie crave the taste of any animal organ, hearts, tongues, and all – he seeks the taste from every other locale possible – from dung to urine to milk from a woman’s breast, from blood to the taste of sex – he wants it all.
The Last Banquet was full of emotion – not necessarily from the narrator (who is narrating from old age) – but in the prose. Grimwood writes beautifully, as befitting the time prior to the French Revolution. There were some surprisingly dark passages that made my eyes widen in disbelief, some depressing parts, parts that made me angry, that made me happy, and there were parts that were filled with raw sensuality and love. Grimwood encompassed more emotion in The Last Banquet than I’ve encountered in any story I’ve read this year.
Through Jean-Marie’s attendance in a school for boys and later a military academy, he meets lifelong friends, and through friends he meets lovers and many other kinds of people. There are interesting characters you will hate and love throughout the story, including appearances by greats such as Voltaire and Ben Franklin. We follow Jean-Marie through love and loss, thick and thin, as he rises through the ranks of the French society in the 18th century that Grimwood depicted so very well.
Having a solid amount of knowledge of the Revolutionary era of France, I found myself smiling at how much of the detail written was picture-perfect – The Last Banquet is an ideal representation of the rising class tension, the food shortages, and the decay of French society at the time. From peasants covered in filth giving Jean-Marie and his compatriots angry looks to men and women alike squatting to relieve themselves out in the open without a care in the world. This accuracy made the story feel incredibly real to me.
The sheer scale of The Last Banquet is one of its defining features. Grimwood doesn’t give us a glimpse into Jean-Marie’s life, or even a decade. He gives us the entire thing – decades and decades of d’Aumont’s life. He also includes very thought-provoking material, one such example is when Jean-Marie says
“‘I’m not sure the people can cope without the idea of God’ I told him. ‘Without spiritual heights to which they can aspire…’”
The conversation continues with talk of what the causes of religion are, what the world would be like without it, and other things.
There is so much wonderful content in The Last Banquet and Mr. Grimwood shattered my expectations when I bought the book on a whim. The Last Banquet is the story of Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumont – a man on the quest of taste, going wherever it takes him, from an orphan to a diplomat of the king, country to country, flavor to flavor. I cannot recommend it enough and, having not read Jonathan’s previous work, I’ve got some catching up to do before he puts out another marvelous piece of work like The Last Banquet. Now go buy it.
The Last Banquet is a book that has great moments and overall hangs together well, but whose episodic character and "outside observer" mostly emotionless first person narration stop it from being one of those truly memorable novels that one reads many times
The story is simple - poor and orphan but of noble blood, Jean Marie d'Aumout is lucky to be noticed by the passing "Regent", the former ruler of France and his retinue who send him to a school for poor nobility and later to an officer academy; Jean Marie has a very unusual sense of taste and experiments with lots of strange recipes (some could be disturbing to some as they involve cats, dogs, bats, rats, beetles and even various human products), while he makes friends with rich bourgeois Emile Duras (who sort of follows his coattails and gets to study and hang out with the higher nobility without being really accepted) and two young noblemen, Charlot, marquis de Saulx and heir to the famous Duke, protege of the Sun King long ago, and Jerome vicomte Caussard who is more conniving and later becomes part of ruling elite behind Kings Louis XV and XVI
Jean Marie gets the girl (you'll see soon who obviously) and the money and becomes quite famous on his own as a sort of natural philosopher and connoisseur, but life with its joys and sorrows goes on, showing that getting the girl and the money may not be quite enough or the happy ending one usually sees in books.
To me the beginning parts and then the ones when in his 50's, Jean Marie gets involved in the Corsican adventure of 1768-69 were the highlights, though each episode from his life has its moments
While being of the nobility and staying true to it till the (bitter) end of 1789, Jean Marie always notices the poor and their hatred of his class, clinically and occasionally compassionately as he tries to be a good master, but without the least bit of sentimentality or belief that if the storm comes, the end result will be much different than what came before:
"Court politics have long since ceased to have any interest. Those I leave to Jerome and Charlot. And the kind Emile once practiced? They bore me. Emile’s friends don’t want to open the cage and return the animals to the wild, they simply want to change who owns the zoo"
A tiger stars too, while Ben Franklin makes quite a memorable appearance and if Jean Marie sounds a bit too modern on occasion, his 18th century France is recreated superbly.
‘I’m not sure the people can cope without the idea of God,’ I told him. ‘Without spiritual heights to which they can aspire, like young men looking at a rock face and daring each other to climb. If we abandon our belief in God we become God and take his powers.’ Emile laughed. ‘Don’t tell me you’ve started to believe?’ I stared at him. ‘I’ve always believed.’ ‘In God the father, God the son and God the holy ghost?’ ‘Of course not. But in something. We all have to believe in something.’ ‘If we don’t . . . ?’ He let his question hang. ‘We start believing only in ourselves.’ ‘Belief in God is the cause of war, superstition, irrationality . . . And has been the cause of those since time began.’ What Emile spoke was treason, and if not treason, then certainly blasphemy, but I’d heard it from him so often it barely registered. He was hunched forward, knuckles white around his wine glass from where his fists were clenched, like a boy trying to make an impression on the classroom. As he’d been when I first met him, a lawyer’s son sent to live among the children of impoverished nobles. ‘Without God the wars will get even worse.
Think Restoration by Rose Tremain, but set in the world of aristocratic France before the revolution. Think Perfume by Patrick Suskind but with the allure of food and taste, in many and varied guises.
If you enjoyed those novels then I'm sure you'll love The Last Banquet, a novel which stands entirely alone in originality and grace. This is a compelling read which explores all human appetites - hunger for food, for pleasure, for love, and also the hunger of social ambition, to rise from ignorance and filth to a higher more dignified plane of life, but all the while acknowledging that, at the end of the day, every human life is ephemeral, just another link in the food chain.
This is an excellent novel. It left me contemplating so much more than 'just' the story. A philosophical delight.
On a superficial level perhaps I love it because the central character is obsessed with taste; he wants to know the taste of everything. He devises recipes for all manner of unlikely ingredients, from cat to flamingo tongues. But it's not really just about taste is it? It's more about hunger, and a need to experience the new.
The book is set in France in the years leading up to the Revolution. We first meet the central character when he is a child, sitting on a dung heap, so hungry that he eats beetles. But he rises to become a nobleman, living in a chateau with a menagerie of wild animals, discarded from the zoo at Versailles.
'The Last Banquet' is a ravenous novel by any standards, a swirling account of life amid the crumbling nobility of 18th century France, propelled by its narrator's insatiable appetite for food and flesh. It starts with a scene in which the newly-orphaned Jean-Marie d'Aumout is found feasting on beetles on a dung-heap. Because of his aristocratic origins he is rescued and sent to a military academy, setting a course for life among the nation's ludicrously over-privileged elite. Notable friendships and random acts of bravery conspire to fire d'Aumout all the way to the flanks of Versailles themselves, where royalty lounge seemingly oblivious to the dirt and destitution that is edging ever closer to its door. The futility of their preposterous excess is indicated in d'Aumout's ever-more outlanding eating experiences, many of which he faithfully reproduces: there are recipes for wolf's heart pickle and three-snake bouillabaisse, most of which, he can't help noting, taste like chicken. Despite such decadence, the author has created a highly credible character, fiercely loyal in relation to the times, clearly ill-at-ease in such high courts, and one you can't help but cheer on in his latest clattering quest: in the final part of the novel, he is sent by the king to Corsica to try to broker a deal to bring the island under French control. Typically, he accepts the task not out of any great sense of nationalism, but out of a desire to taste a possibly mythical Corsican cheese called Brocciu di Donna, made from the breast milk of new mothers. That the ending is inevitable does not for one moment slow this novel's sense of urgency, and Grimwood succeeds in inveigling the reader in d'Aumout's ambitious, thickly-coated quests. It's a damning indictment of an 18th century nobility that was soon to cease to exist, and a reminder that life is better shaped by simple pleasures. Grimwood is the pseudonym of Jon Courtenay Grimwood, whose science-fiction novels have won a number of prizes. If, like me, you have something of an aversion to the sci-fi genre, or historical fiction itself, my advice is to shelve it and savour this book as you might a surprising and entirely welcome new flavour.
It's a very good, but partially unsatisfying book. The descriptive writing is wonderful. The portrait of the corruption and depravity of Versailles and the brutality and desperation of the lives of the peasants make the excesses of the Revolution sensible in a way that is awful.
Better than I could ever say it - Christobel Kent writing in The Guardian July 19, 2013:
There is much to enjoy in this book: it is racily picaresque, energetic and clever. History is deftly and diligently interposed with the details of a life, while Jean-Marie's character is carefully elaborated so as to illustrate the various aspects of a vivid era: pre-revolutionary France, with its philosophers and gourmets and interestingly depraved nobility. His kinship with animals chimes with Rousseau's natural man; his outsider status and his scientific objectivity allow him to observe the decay of a great society without sinking along with it. Grimwood, who writes science fiction and fantasy as Jon Courtenay Grimwood, has a powerfully visceral sense of France and its history. On the smells and tastes and sounds of a country saturated in gluttony, he is marvellous: thyme, milk, sweat and dung are all vividly present on the page. On occasion the writing flares into brilliance, producing some memorable descriptions. Grimwood evokes the scent of a Corsican hillside; he writes of monks on St Michel hovering "at the back of the dilapidated cathedral like unhappy ghosts" and the tawdry, crowded stink of Versailles.
Overall, though, The Last Banquet has significant failings: it is no Perfume, nor a Jamrach's Menagerie, both comparisons made by its publishers. Stylistically, it has a curious butch woodenness, and as a result its intelligence reads as artificiality. In particular, our hero's epicureanism is inconsistent; it is neither rhapsodic enough nor sufficiently integral to his character to make it seem anything but tacked on, with the addition of occasional outlandish recipes. It is bewilderingly undermined, too, when he can say, early on, "One pig, one mouse, one owl tastes much like another." In which case – why bother?
OMG! This was a serendipity find on the "new" shelf at my public library. RAVENOUS! More, PLEASE, Mr. Jonathan Grimwood!
Fantastically sensual 1st person autobiography of Jean-Marie D'Aumout's life and adventures in Louis XV's France. There is such a non-2013 (or any modern era) factor in this book that I am flummoxed to adequately describe its quality and nuance. Suffice it to say that if you are a vegetarian or have high PC standards re animal products or feel your religion is cored in work to save the whales or the baby seals, this book is probably not for you.
And on top of it, I am not really much of a Francophile - but pass me the foie gras and let's go on a snail hunt.
Moll Flanders, and bawdy Tom Jones come to mind- but with infinitely better flavorings. C'est tout! Bon appetit.
This was NOT a very compelling book, however it was not so offensive as to make me actively dislike it. The setting is during the 1700s in France, a boy is found orphaned in dire circumstances who is obsessed with the taste of everything. There is definitely a 'grossness' factor in the descriptions of what he eats and tastes (not a book for the squeamish). But it's also not very well structured. Large chunks of the book are missing any mention about his supposed obsession with taste. There is a bit of 18th c. version of Forrest Gump with the protaganist being in the right place to meet various luminaries of the day. I am not at all sure what the point was for the author to write this story, which he supposedly had the idea for ages ago and has been keeping on a scrap of paper for years. If you are interested in this time period and sensory obsessions, I suggest you Perfume instead.
I was a bit skeptical about this book when it was first recommended to me. I wasn't sure it was necessarily my cup of tea, but figured I'd give it a few chapters to win me over. I'm very glad that I did, the writer has an ability to transport the reader. His style is reminiscent of Hemingway the way I can feel and taste every word. The story is rich with history and ingeniously included recipes (not sure if they are real). The writing was lyrical and is an original and ambitious story in my opinion, not for the faint of heart. But if you're strong of stomach, you'll love the story of the little orphan boy that grows up to struggle through an extraordinary life during the French revolution.
Rather a strange book about a young man who tastes well and loves to taste everything (dung beetles, animals, human flesh) and appreciates what he eats. That tasting fetish also gets him into some pretty strange sexual activities. He lives and grows old in the days before and then of the French Revolution. There are some interesting observations about the horrid stench and situation of Versailles back when it was booming, and also that the French might not have had their revolution had they not supported ours; their soldiers came home with ideas and that government was a bit more bankrupt because of the help they gave us. The book was written fine; the storyline was very strange and didn't broaden my life much at all.
I will confess. I knew nothing of this book or its author when I first picked it up. I judged this book worthy to read by its cover. There is a silhouette of a tiger in a powdered wig and livery, looking proud but wary. Then the title: The Last Banquet. I knew as soon as I started to read it that I would love it. It's part historical fiction, part tale of struggle and overcoming, part cook book, part erotica. Or protagonist is an orphan, a super-taster, an animal lover, and a good person. There is political intrigue, revolution and romance. All of the above. I will seek out Johnathan Grimwood in the future.
Most reviews I've read have compared this to 'Perfume' by Patrick Suskind, however I think it could better be likened to a combination of Andrew Miller's 'Pure', and N M Kelby's 'White Truffles in Winter'; this has all the elegance and charm of an 18th century philosophical tract combined with the luscious, sensual delights found in one of Nigella Lawson's recipe books. A captivating story with a poignant and apt ending this is a delight from start to finish.
This was the last book I had on my shelf from a book club hosted by the now defunct podcast, The Readers. I had kept up with the group reads really well up until the final three. I don’t really think this book was worth waiting seven years for, unfortunately. It is the story of one man’s life, Jean-Marie d’Aumont, who is saved from starvation as a child and sent to a charity school for impoverished noblemen and then to a military academy. In his youth, he meets three young men who will, one way or another, influence the rest of his life.
This book doing what William Boyd often does some of his novels (Any Human Heart, Sweet Caress, The New Confessions), which is showing the story of an age or an era (in this case the end of Absolutism in France and the beginnings of the Revolution in the 18th century in the fictional biography of one person. But Grimwood also gives his protagonist fanciful taste buds; he will eat anything for the novelty of it and is constantly looking for different things to try. I was almost expecting something like Parfum by Patrick Susskind as a result, but this is not that. The book tag line has “Orphan, Soldier, Diplomat, Spy, Lover and Chef” and yes, at a stretch, that is kind-of accurate. But really Jean-Marie and the other characters are just props to show the changes France; there isn’t much of a narrative arc and consequently I found it a little boring.
The descriptions of food and other less appetizing things Jean-Marie puts into his mouth are compelling and rich. But they don’t really enrich the story, what little there is. It really reminds me in that respect of Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night in that there are lovely set pieces, but ultimately it is just a book of events which may be beautifully written but don’t really add up to an interesting novel.
I described Jonathan Grimwood’s The Last Banquet to a friend as fluff dressed up in a pre-revolutionary French costume. That’s not to imply anything negative because this book is a pure delight – every page plump with historical detail, surprising plot twists and terrific writing to boot.
The story begins with a young boy, Jean-Marie d’Aumout, eating beetles by the side of the road. He’s a penniless orphan but by the grace of having a ‘d’ in his name is distinguished as nobility and sent to a military academy for schooling. From there unfolds a series of adventures and we see Jean-Marie as many things – soldier, diplomat, loyal friend, spy, lover, scientist and, above all, a chef. For it is Jean-Marie’s pursuit of culinary perfection and the need to taste everything that underpins every twist and turn in this gripping saga.
Some historical fiction can get bogged down in detail, the author trying to prove the thoroughness of their research. Not the case here. Grimwood’s prose is authentic but light – take the romp of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, the debauchery of Maurice Lever’s Sade: A Biography and the quirkiness of Michael Allin’s Zarafa, and you’ll get the gist of The Last Banquet. Descriptions of life in court (the Palace of Versailles) and the feeling of social unrest are woven throughout the text. Of the nobility, Jean-Marie says -
“We disgusted Europe with our degeneracy. We disgusted ourselves.”
and of Versailles -
“…I’m left in a room that stinks so fiercely from a nearby from a nearby latrine that no amount of gilded cherubs or paintings of pink-nippled shepherdesses can make good the smell.”
As Jean-Marie’s story unfolds, the social order of France shifts. In the beginning (1724) he says of the peasants -
“And though we might see a wide-eyed boy only a little younger than we were, or a girl pretty enough to make us notice her, we knew what they would become. It had always been this way and we believed it always would. More to the point, they believed it and so it was.”
and by the end (1784) -
“The sourness I’d first tasted in the air at Versailles years earlier had spread across France like malign marsh fog. Where there had been misery there was now misery and anger.”
There are secondary characters in this story, notably his friends Charlot, an aristocrat, and Emile, whose bourgeois circumstances set him apart from the other school boys (of course, history tells us that the tide will turn for Emile). Grimwood uses these characters nicely to give context to the unfolding revolution yet it is the themes of taste and hunger that stand out.
I was both riveted and repulsed by the descriptions of food in this book. In fact, I use the term ‘food’ loosely because much of what Jean Marie puts in his mouth wouldn’t be found on a menu – tadpoles, sparrow’s eggs, pickled wolf’s heart, dog, three-snake bouillabaisse, tiger, flamingo tongue, breast milk from a wet-nurse and more. Jean-Marie’s recipes and notes are scattered throughout the text, which reminds the reader that his culinary pursuits have an element of scientific inquiry to them, pulling them back from the territory of the perverse.
“A pike was dressed in hot vinegar that turned its scales to the blue of a gun barrel. Its cucumber-and-black pepper sauce had the texture of cream and smelt of spiced grass. The fish tasted of river weed…”
The pursuit of the perfect taste drives the plot of The Last Banquet to the very final pages, the conclusion a fitting and thrilling climax.
And a final word on Grimwood’s style. Exquisite. He combines the perfect and the grotesque with ease -
“Whichever way you enter Paris you hit squalor. Rue Saint Jacques is ankle deep in shit, the church cold and Emile’s bride so brittle she could be spun sugar.”
4/5 – Whilst tadpoles and roasted cat may not be to your taste, this book is an absolute ripper – enjoy.
El último banquete es una novela voraz en todos los sentidos. Una historia de aventuras y vicisitudes de Jean-Marie d'Aumout en los finales de la decadente nobleza francesa del S.XVIII, impulsado por el apetito insaciable de su narrador.
La historia comienza con un niño, Jean-Marie d'Aumout, dándose un festín de escarabajos por un lado de la carretera. Es huérfano y pobre, pero tiene la fortuna de tener una 'd' en su nombre que lo distingue como noble, siendo enviado a una academia militar para su escolarización. A partir de ahí se desarrolla una serie de aventuras y vemos a Jean-Marie como muchas cosas: soldado, diplomático, amigo leal, espía, amante, científico y, sobre todo, un chef. Es la búsqueda de Jean-Marie por la perfección culinaria y la necesidad de probar todo lo que encuentra lo que sustenta cada giro y vuelta en esta novela.
Algunos autores de ficción histórica llegan a empantanarse en los detalles al intentar demostrar la minuciosidad de sus investigaciones. No es el caso aquí. La prosa de Grimwood es auténtica. Imaginaos las escenas de la película de Sofia Coppola -María Antonieta, el libertinaje de Sade de Maurice Lever o el crudo retrato de la película Das Parfum de las calles sucias de la Francia de 1700 y en esencia tendréis El Último Banquete. Las descripciones de la vida en la corte (el Palacio de Versalles) y la sensación de malestar social se reflejarán a lo largo del libro.
Hay personajes secundarios en esta historia, sobre todo su amigo Charlot, un aristócrata víctima de su propio linaje, y Emile, cuyas circunstancias burguesas lo diferencian de los demás niños de la escuela. Grimwood utiliza estos personajes muy bien para dar contexto a la revolución en marcha, sin embargo, son los temas del gusto y el hambre los que sobresalen de la historia.
La futilidad del exceso absurdo en las experiencias gastronómicas en d'Aumout rodean la extravagancia hasta llegar a los bordes de la incredulidad cuando son leídas. Muchas de las cuales se reproducen de manera básica y fría: hay recetas para salmuera, corazón de lobo y bouillabaisse de tres serpientes, la mayoría de ellas, con una conclusión de comparación con los alimentos que usualmente se comen: pollo, cordero, conejo, etc. Sin embargo, debo reconocer que no las disfruté leyendo. Algunas incluso no las leí porque me parecieron perturbadoras como la del gato. Sí, sentí repulsión en muchos momentos del libro. El divertimento y la perversidad básica del hambre y la búsqueda del gusto perfecto son lo que moldean la narración a través de las recetas y vivencias del personaje principal. No son agradables, sin embargo, una vez empezados a leer, ya no se puede parar.
A pesar de tal decadencia, el autor ha creado un personaje de gran credibilidad, ferozmente leal en relación a los tiempos. Uno no puede dejar de sentir cierta emoción en su última misión estrepitosa: en la parte final de la novela, es enviado por el rey a Córcega para intentar llegar a un acuerdo para que la isla quede bajo control francés. Por lo general, se entiende que la tarea no fuera de gran sentido del nacionalismo para Jean- Marie, sino por el deseo de probar un queso corso posiblemente mítico llamado Brocciu di Donna, a partir de la leche materna de las madres primerizas. Aquí ya tenemos una idea formada de quien es realmente Jean- Marie.
El final es inevitable y en cierta forma valiente a pesar del tono melancólico y de la última receta grotesca del personaje. Momento que detesté por todo lo alto, pero comprensible para un personaje como Jean- Marie.
El libro es una dura crítica de la nobleza de la Francia del siglo XVIII que pronto dejaría de existir, y un recordatorio de que la vida está mejor configurada por los placeres simples. A pesar de tener la peor escena de sexo que haya leído, sin llegar a tener arcadas pero muy cerca, he disfrutado el libro a pesar de los peros y de haber odiado todas sus recetas.
Nota: Grimwood es el seudónimo de Jon Courtenay Grimwood, cuyas novelas de ciencia-ficción han ganado varios premios.
The book deserves more than three stars but is not quite a four! Interesting story set in historically interesting times before / up to the French Revolution. Famous people of the time such as Votaire and Benjamin Franklin pop in to the story at times too. The main character John-Marie is pretty flat though. I didnt find that I liked him that much although he was quite a liberal of his time. The women in his life are not that well developed as characters either and seemed to come and go without great emotion. described by the publishers as being like 'Perfume' I think it was actually trying to be a bit like perfume. The taste angle was not an integral enough part of the story for it to be there at all in my opinion and the recipes got a bit dull after the first few. I also didnt particularly thing the sex scenes were vital to the plot and it all seemed as if these things had been used as padding. However, it is a cracking story and while not in the 'unputdownable ' group it was certainly in the 'cant wait to get back to the book to see what happens' pile. Had either the tasting side been developed more into an interesting part of the story or left out entirely to allow for more character development it would have been great. I can take or leave the 30 shades of grey bits ( not quite up to 50!)
So in summary, interesting book, good read, could have been done slightly better but would recommend - particularly as a holiday read
Не слишком вдохновляющее чтиво. Это заурядная история, в которой рассказчик пассивно проживает свои дни, довольствуясь тем, что судьба прибивает к его порогу. Те несколько приключений, что сваливаются на его долю, не делают его лучше или хуже. Личность рассказчика уныла, а его повернутость на желании пожарить все с луком и свести все мясо к четырем вкусам, которую кто-то в рекламе сравнил с одержимостью Гренуя-Парфюмера, вызывает только раздраженное желание пролистать очередной ненужный и неинтересный рецепт, который предсказуемо завершается резюме "похоже на *название известного мяса*". Ну вот и сама книга так. Вроде и жарил, и мариновал, и специями посыпал, а от кисловатого привкуса и жесткости старого мяса книга так и не избавилась. Разочарована.
I admit it - I'm a bit of a foodie. And that's what originally drew me to this book. But - don't read it for the food (I suspect most of us are not interested in eating things like pickled wolf's heart), read it because it's an engaging story with memorable characters. Set in France in the 18th century, Jean-Marie's desire to experience the world through taste is only a small part of the story. A little history and alot of character (and characters), this is a delightful read. An just in case you might be tempted to try pickled wolf's heart, there are recipes throughout the book. Just be sure to enjoy the story.
A wacky yet enjoyable book. The main voice of the book is a man that begins his life as an impoverished French noble, and ends as the Revolution is busting down his chateau door. In between, his adventurous eating habits first make him an object of ridicule, then earn him a more admired status. It also helps keep him alive when he most needs it.
12/6: Some books definitely take a seat within my soul and stay for a bit longer than others, and that's how I rate them. As time passes I also consider how many times I mention it to my friends. It's been a couple of weeks since I finished this novel and I am still thinking about it. I have raised my star rating.
Ik ben verward, niet zozeer in tweestrijd. Ik weet simpelweg niet wat ik van dit boek moet vinden. Geniaal? Gruwelijk? Vulgair?
Van een prachtige dichtende zin die je de scène laat proeven en opsnuiven zoals je het helemaal voor je kan zien, rol je naar een zin die je oren rood maakt van gene en doet geloven dat je een editie uit een boeketreeks aan het lezen bent... en niet veel zinnen later verkreukeld je gezicht van gruwelijkheden.