Eating Mammals: Three Novellas

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Overview

In the tradition of T. C. Boyle,
Steven Millhauser, and Michel Faber — with a penchant for the macabre worthy of Irvine Welsh — comes Eating Mammals.

Gypsies, businessmen, servants, masters, and unwise children come together in three mythical tales from Victorian England. Eating Mammals evokes a lost time and place in which the realm of the magical seems almost too possible: a winged cat wreaks havoc in a Yorkshire workhouse and then in the ...

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Overview

In the tradition of T. C. Boyle,
Steven Millhauser, and Michel Faber — with a penchant for the macabre worthy of Irvine Welsh — comes Eating Mammals.

Gypsies, businessmen, servants, masters, and unwise children come together in three mythical tales from Victorian England. Eating Mammals evokes a lost time and place in which the realm of the magical seems almost too possible: a winged cat wreaks havoc in a Yorkshire workhouse and then in the minds of a succession of owners; a famed stunt eater introduces his apprentice, Captain Gusto, to the delicate art of devouring anything for a living; a blooming romance between two meat-pie makers leads thirty-two adorned donkeys to the altar. Wholly original and as assured as folklore, Eating Mammals marks the arrival of a very distinctive new voice.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review from Discover Great New Writers
These three carefully plotted and complex novellas take readers on a mythical journey to Victorian Yorkshire, where magic meets reality with strange aplomb. Barlow has a marvelously distinctive voice and a talent for casting even the grotesque in a sympathetic light, and his haunting tone captures perfectly the extraordinary lives of his unusual characters.

In the title story, Captain Gusto becomes apprentice to the famous eater Michael Mulligan, who has made a career of one-man shows during which he eats outrageous items, such as china cups or furniture, as requested by members of the audience. As Gusto embarks on his own circuit, however, he sees the degradation of society as a whole in the increasingly repellent items he is asked to consume. In "The Possession of Thomas-Bessie," the act of possessing a living thing for greed and profit wreaks havoc and despair on the lives of those who refuse to love a winged cat for itself. And in "The Donkey Wedding at Gomersal," an alienated and shy woman finds herself loved by a man and an entire town through the magical effects of her own cooking.

Throughout the three novellas, Barlow manages a playful, joyful quality without sacrificing emotional depth or irony. That the stories are based on fact makes the journey through his macabre, wondrous world all the more delicious. (Holiday 2004 Selection)

New York Newsday
“If EdwardGorey and FlanneryO’Connor were to collaborate on a book of fiction, it might wind up alot like Eating Mammals.”
New York Times Book Review
“Barlow’s imagination appears unlimited, almost attuned to a parallel world.”
New York Times Book Review
“Barlow’s imagination appears unlimited, almost attuned to a parallel world.”
New York Newsday
“If EdwardGorey and FlanneryO’Connor were to collaborate on a book of fiction, it might wind up alot like Eating Mammals.”
Publishers Weekly
Briton Barlow delivers a delightfully gothic, witty and sometimes macabre trio of novellas, each based on an apparently authentic historical oddity. The title piece, for which Barlow earned a Paris Review Discovery Prize, takes place just after the Second World War and concerns a breakfast chef taken in by Michael "Cast Iron" Mulligan, an enormous, worldly Irishman who will eat anything (worms, chairs, brass plaques) for a price. Dubbed Captain Gusto by his mentor-and charged with grinding up the stuff for Mulligan to eat-the chef later decides to follow in Mulligan's footsteps, with disastrous results. The second novella gleefully chronicles the trials of various Victorian English villagers after the birth of a winged kitten in their local workhouse. Fortunes are won and lost as Thomas-Bessie (" 'cos we didn't know if it were a boy or a girl") minds its own business amid all the attention, and various citizens go mad and chaos reigns. In "The Donkey Wedding at Gomersal," an endearing fable of midlife romance in rural 1850s England, a widow and a widower discover love together while doing a brilliant business in pork pies. Barlow's observant, chatty and sometimes playfully starchy prose perfectly complements his weird tales; this is a idiosyncratic and memorable collection. Agent, Peter Steinberg. (Sept. 17) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060591755
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/14/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

John Barlow is a native of West Yorkshire who has taught at universities in both England and Spain. He is the author of Eating Mammals and lives in Spain.

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Read an Excerpt

Eating Mammals

Three Novellas
By Barlow, John

Perennial

ISBN: 0060591757

Chapter One

My career began with two strokes of good luck -- fate you might say, because as instances of good fortune none could have bettered them. After the war, towards the end of which I served as a cook in His Majesty's land forces, I returned to England and, armed with the ability to knock up wholesome bully beef stew for three hundred, presumed to pass myself off as a chef. In my new, ill-fitting suit (we all go a new, ill-fitting suit) I talked my way into the kitchens of modest hotel in Scarborough, and several years afterward found myself working in one of the superior hotels on the Yorkshire coast. I won't tell you where, because about decade later, at a moment when I gained some brief, local notoriety for swallowing slugs, my former employer there wrote to beg me never to divulge the name of the place to another living soul. Quite right, of course, although by that time I had completely forgotten the name of the establishment, and his letter served only to remind me of it.

Anyway, whilst I was working at this hotel as third chef, in which role I took charge of breakfasts, I found myself on morning called to the table of a guest in order to receive hi compliments. His name was Mulligan, a regular customer and familiar to us all, not by the frequency of his stays so much as by the dimensions of his body. He was, quite simply enormous. In his tweed suit he resembled a well-tailored tree trunk, a huge lump of man. One would not have called him fat, although there was certainly more to him than meat and bone. No, not fat. Even as he sat, motionless but for the steady working of his jaws, one could tell that he wasn't a wobbler, that when he stood up his belly would not ifib-flab around in front of him like a sackful of jellyfish. From head to toe he had achieved a condition only dreamed of by the obese, and scorned (somewhat jealously) by bodybuilders everywhere: firm fat. And underneath that magnificent outer layer there resided also an ample musculature, sufficient muscle indeed so that, had he been alive today, Mulligan would have been at least an American wrestler, and at best a great film star.

But as luck (for me) would have it, he was neither of these; he was the feted Michael 'Cast Iron' Mulligan. And that morning, as I picked bits of uneaten bacon from returned breakfast plates, examining them for teeth marks before setting them aside for a quiche, he wanted to speak to me.

At that time I knew no more about him than what I saw, and that included what I saw him eat. On this particular occasion he had consumed enough porridge to fill a bowler hat, ham and eggs sufficient to keep a team of navvies on the move all morning, and half a loaf of toast. But, then again, he had done so the previous morning, and as far as I was aware my cooking had not improved miraculously overnight. So why he wanted to speak to the breakfast chef I could not guess.

I approached his table, where he was sipping tea from a china cup, as delicate as you like. As if to mark my arrival he dropped a lump of sugar into the cup with a pair of silver tongs. Then he looked up at me.

'So you're the breakfast chef,' he said, in an Irish accent which teetered between seriousness and levity, as if everything had two possible interpretations. 'Well, many thanks indeed for another fine meal. Yes, many, many thanks.'

I accepted his gratitude somewhat awkwardly, not quite deciding on an interpretation.

'And,' he continued, pushing a vacant chair towards me and lowering his voice, 'I am in need of a little assistance, and you look as if you might be the right man for the job.'

I sat down at the table, and noticed that there was a pound note slotted under a side plate. He let me consider its possible significance for a moment, then went on.

'Today,' he said, then stopping to drain the last of the tea from his cup, 'I have a little business, a professional dinner if you will...

I nodded, still looking at the money.

'A rather special affair, for which I am to provide the liquid refreshment.'

I was about to tell him that access to the wine cellar was strictly by arrangement with the manager, having (incorrectly) deduced that he, like many others before him, baulked at the prices on our wine list and fancied some vino on the cheap. But I was a rather timid young man, and before I could summon up a suitably tactful form of words to explain that every thief has his price, and that mine was three pounds a case, he took a small piece of paper from his waistcoat pocket and placed it in front of me...

Continues...

Excerpted from Eating Mammals by Barlow, John Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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First Chapter

Eating Mammals
Three Novellas

Chapter One

My career began with two strokes of good luck -- fate you might say, because as instances of good fortune none could have bettered them. After the war, towards the end of which I served as a cook in His Majesty's land forces, I returned to England and, armed with the ability to knock up wholesome bully beef stew for three hundred, presumed to pass myself off as a chef. In my new, ill-fitting suit (we all go a new, ill-fitting suit) I talked my way into the kitchens of modest hotel in Scarborough, and several years afterward found myself working in one of the superior hotels on the Yorkshire coast. I won't tell you where, because about decade later, at a moment when I gained some brief, local notoriety for swallowing slugs, my former employer there wrote to beg me never to divulge the name of the place to another living soul. Quite right, of course, although by that time I had completely forgotten the name of the establishment, and his letter served only to remind me of it.

Anyway, whilst I was working at this hotel as third chef, in which role I took charge of breakfasts, I found myself on morning called to the table of a guest in order to receive hi compliments. His name was Mulligan, a regular customer and familiar to us all, not by the frequency of his stays so much as by the dimensions of his body. He was, quite simply enormous. In his tweed suit he resembled a well-tailored tree trunk, a huge lump of man. One would not have called him fat, although there was certainly more to him than meat and bone. No, not fat. Even as he sat, motionless but for the steady working of his jaws, one could tell that he wasn't a wobbler, that when he stood up his belly would not ifib-flab around in front of him like a sackful of jellyfish. From head to toe he had achieved a condition only dreamed of by the obese, and scorned (somewhat jealously) by bodybuilders everywhere: firm fat. And underneath that magnificent outer layer there resided also an ample musculature, sufficient muscle indeed so that, had he been alive today, Mulligan would have been at least an American wrestler, and at best a great film star.

But as luck (for me) would have it, he was neither of these; he was the feted Michael 'Cast Iron' Mulligan. And that morning, as I picked bits of uneaten bacon from returned breakfast plates, examining them for teeth marks before setting them aside for a quiche, he wanted to speak to me.

At that time I knew no more about him than what I saw, and that included what I saw him eat. On this particular occasion he had consumed enough porridge to fill a bowler hat, ham and eggs sufficient to keep a team of navvies on the move all morning, and half a loaf of toast. But, then again, he had done so the previous morning, and as far as I was aware my cooking had not improved miraculously overnight. So why he wanted to speak to the breakfast chef I could not guess.

I approached his table, where he was sipping tea from a china cup, as delicate as you like. As if to mark my arrival he dropped a lump of sugar into the cup with a pair of silver tongs. Then he looked up at me.

'So you're the breakfast chef,' he said, in an Irish accent which teetered between seriousness and levity, as if everything had two possible interpretations. 'Well, many thanks indeed for another fine meal. Yes, many, many thanks.'

I accepted his gratitude somewhat awkwardly, not quite deciding on an interpretation.

'And,' he continued, pushing a vacant chair towards me and lowering his voice, 'I am in need of a little assistance, and you look as if you might be the right man for the job.'

I sat down at the table, and noticed that there was a pound note slotted under a side plate. He let me consider its possible significance for a moment, then went on.

'Today,' he said, then stopping to drain the last of the tea from his cup, 'I have a little business, a professional dinner if you will ...

I nodded, still looking at the money.

'A rather special affair, for which I am to provide the liquid refreshment.'

I was about to tell him that access to the wine cellar was strictly by arrangement with the manager, having (incorrectly) deduced that he, like many others before him, baulked at the prices on our wine list and fancied some vino on the cheap. But I was a rather timid young man, and before I could summon up a suitably tactful form of words to explain that every thief has his price, and that mine was three pounds a case, he took a small piece of paper from his waistcoat pocket and placed it in front of me ...

Eating Mammals
Three Novellas
. Copyright © by John Barlow. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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