The Debt to Pleasure
by John Lanchester
Category: Fiction / Comedy
232 pages; ISBN: 0-330-34455-2
Rating: 10/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Nigel Utting
Brief synopsis: Tarquin Winot, bigot, fancophile, snob, walking culinary encyclopaedia, a man devoid of morals and only arguably sane, progresses from Portsmouth to his cottage in Provence, dispensing recipes, gems of knowledge and scenes from his early life.
It’s late August, and I am happy to state just two thirds of the way into the year, that “The Debt to Pleasure” is my Book of The Year 2000; any other book aspiring to that title will have to be very, very good, indeed.
Author John Lanchester has created a character obsessed with his own imaginary talents, yet gifted with culinary skills and insight beyond his fair share.
Having accepted the thesis that “less is more”, Tarquin employs the ultimate development of that stance (“if less is more, than nothing at all must be even better”) to justify his own lack of artistic success. His ability, through pure egotism, to misunderstand a situation and to utterly misinterpret actions of others is hilarious.
Tarquin parallels his physical journey to Provence with a series of seasonal menus, and accounts of visits to French restaurants of varying quality. Dispersed among the menus are tableaux from his childhood, from which we learn that his manipulation of those around him - both physical and psychological – began, at what was for some people, a fatally early age.
Lanchester’s (or is in Tarquin’s?) predilection for long parenthetic comments within already substantial paragraphs, combined with Tarquin’s other habit of reverting without warning to topics previously raised but unfinished, keeps the reader on his toes. (Why “his”? You need to read the book to know why!)
I have just finished “The Debt to Pleasure” and, as soon as I finish typing, I am going back for an immediate second reading. Be in no doubt, this is a book based on great wit and scholarship: an immensely good read.
If you are a foodie, a francophile, someone who enjoys good writing – or, probably, all of the above – you will love this book. Guaranteed.