Set against the backdrop of the Enlightenment, the delectable decadence of Versailles, and the French Revolution, The Last Banquet is an intimate epic that tells the story of one man’s quest to know the world through its many and marvelous flavors. Jean-Marie d’Aumout will try anything once, with consequences that are at times mouthwatering and at others fascinatingly macabre (Three Snake Bouillabaisse anyone? Or perhaps some pickled Wolf's Heart?). When he is not obsessively searching for a new taste d’Aumout ...
Set against the backdrop of the Enlightenment, the delectable decadence of Versailles, and the French Revolution, The Last Banquet is an intimate epic that tells the story of one man’s quest to know the world through its many and marvelous flavors. Jean-Marie d’Aumout will try anything once, with consequences that are at times mouthwatering and at others fascinatingly macabre (Three Snake Bouillabaisse anyone? Or perhaps some pickled Wolf's Heart?). When he is not obsessively searching for a new taste d’Aumout is a fast friend, a loving husband, a doting father, and an imaginative lover. He befriends Ben Franklin, corresponds with the Marquis de Sade and Voltaire, becomes a favorite at Versailles, thwarts a peasant uprising, improves upon traditional French methods of contraception, plays an instrumental role in the Corsican War of Independence, and constructs France’s finest menagerie. But d’Aumout’s every adventurous turn is decided by his at times dark obsession to know all the world’s flavors before that world changes irreversibly.
As gripping as Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, as gloriously ambitious as Daniel Kehlman’s Measuring the World, and as prize-worthy as Andrew Miller’s Pure, The Last Banquet is a hugely appealing novel about food and flavor, about the Age of Reason and the ages of man, and our obsessions and about how, if we manage to survive them, they can bequeath us wisdom and consolation in old age.
With his parents dead, young Jean-Marie d’Aumont is found eating beetles on a dung heap and sent to a school for the “sons of destitute nobles” in Enlightenment-era France. He likes school fine, but he didn’t mind the beetles either (brown are sour, black tasty), and as far as he’s concerned, the most notable part of his rescue is the piece of Roquefort cheese he’s given. Along with the beetles, the Roquefort sets d’Aumont on the way to a career as gastronome, sensualist, and taster, a man who can determine what a woman’s eaten recently by rolling a drop of her breast milk on his tongue. The book, ostensibly a memoir written as the French Revolution picks up speed, at the end of a long life, is leisurely but never dull. Watching d’Aumont rise in the world—he makes friends with sons of nondestitute nobles, marries for love, assembles the largest menagerie outside of Versailles, serves as the royal envoy to rebellious and proto-democratic Corsica, and learns how to make a really top-notch condom—is full of pleasures (and recipes, for those wondering how to prepare, say, wolf’s heart). Grimwood, a journalist and, under another name, the author of a good deal of genre fiction, has the gift of making a character’s sensual pleasures as alive to the reader as to they are to him. (Oct.)
Jean-Marie d'Aumout is a liberal, democratic Frenchman obsessed with flavor whose life, narrated in an elegant debut, lays bare the extreme contrasts of pre-Revolutionary France. First encountered at age 5, eating beetles from a dung heap, his parents dead in their run-down chateau, the boy who will become the Marquis d'Aumout never grows out of his fascination with how things taste. Rescued by the Duc d'Orléans, who gives him his first, divine taste of Roquefort cheese, d'Aumout is sent to school and then military academy, where the friends he makes will shape his life. Charlot, heir to the wildly wealthy Saulx estate, will introduce him to one of his sisters, Virginie, whose life d'Aumout will save twice. Grimwood's sensuous, intelligent, occasionally drifting account of the marquis's progress is constantly informed by French politics, notably the immense gulf between the nobility and the peasants whom d'Aumout at least treats with fairness. Scenes at Versailles underline the decadence which will lead to social collapse. Through it all, d'Aumout is driven by a hunger to taste everything--rat, wolf, cat, etc.--and an erotic appetite that is explicitly filled. Ben Franklin puts in a late appearance before the revolution begins, and d'Aumout prepares for a final, extraordinary meal. Studded with bizarre recipes, this vividly entertaining account of a life lived during groundbreaking times is a curious, piquant pleasure.
Jonathan Grimwood was born in Malta and grew up in the Far East, Britain and Scandinavia. He has written for many newspapers and magazines, including The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph and The Independent. Writing under the name Jon Courtenay Grimwood, he has won the British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel twice, and his work has been published in over fifteen languages. He divides his time between London and Winchester.