The Debt to Pleasure

The Debt to Pleasure

by John Lanchester

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Overview

Winner of the Whitbread Award for Best First Novel and a New York Times Notable Book, John Lanchester's The Debt to Pleasure is a wickedly funny ode to food. Traveling from Portsmouth to the south of France, Tarquin Winot, the book's snobbish narrator, instructs us in his philosophy on everything from the erotics of dislike to the psychology of the menu. Under the guise of completing a cookbook, Winot is in fact on a much more sinister mission that only gradually comes to light.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312420369
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 12/07/2001
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 566,847
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

John Lanchester was the deputy editor of the London Review of Books and the restaurant critic for the London Observer. He is the author of The Debt to Pleasure and Mr. Phillips, and his work has appeared in The New Yorker. He lives in London.

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Debt to Pleasure 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Editormum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"I had in mind a project for a novel which would begin in the usual manner ... except that gradually the characters' identities would begin to slip and to blur, and so would the geographical surroundings. ...Only the style of the book would remain consistent .... gradually ... the work would become more troubling ... until the appalled readers, unable to understand what was happening ... and also unable to stop reading, would watch the wholesale metastasization ... the collapse ... so that when they finally put the book down they are aware only of having been protagonists in a deep and violent dream whose sole purpose is their incurable unease." (pages 226-228)It is not often that an author postpones his statement of purpose to the closing pages of his work, burying it within the work itself, rather than in a preface, foreword, or note from the author. But that is precisely what John Lanchester has done in this novel. Habitual preface-skippers will miss out on essential information, as the "preface" is a note from the protagonist, not from the author. And it sets the stage for the tone of the rest of the book.Tarquin Winot is the anti-heroic protagonist of this book -- he is, in fact, so anti-heroic that he serves as both protagonist and antagonist. Winot is verbose, opinionated, patronizing, self-aggrandizing, and quite too fond of himself. He is also faintly sinister, but the faintness of that impression steadily diminishes throughout the narrative. (If you can call it that. If James Joyce or TS Eliot were to write a murder-mystery, this book is a good example of what would result. It's a stream-of-consciousness, flashback-ridden nightmare of a story.)Winot is presented as a gourmet and conoisseur -- but not in a sympathetic way. He is a dark and worrying figure, and the disjointed stories of his earlier life increase the darkness and worry. What begins to emerge is a person whose life has been strangely surrounded by bizarre and inexplicable tragedies. And a person who seems to have both a morbid fascination with death and a suspicious knowledge of the intimate details of the tragedies that touch his life.This is a hard book to read, and it was only sheer, teeth-gritting determination that got me through the first two chapters. And then I couldn't stop reading, even though I wanted to. I needed to understand what was being hinted at. I needed to know the end, even though it was all-too-baldly foreshadowed. If you can work your way through the page-long periodic sentences with their frequent interruptions and asides, you will, as the author suggests, find yourself waking from "a deep and violent dream," afflicted by "incurable unease."
sine_nomine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this "food for thought" book.
sturlington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Debt to Pleasure is one of my favorite ¿dark¿ novels. Ostensibly a narrative cookbook, this novel quickly metamorphoses into a rambling memoir that jumps, seemingly randomly, from one event to another in the unnamed narrator¿s life. Bit by bit, piece by piece, the reader begins to realize that something is very wrong here.I don¿t want to give away any more than that and spoil the fun of unraveling this twisted tale. But I will say that the character of the narrator is one of the most fully realized, completely insane characters I¿ve ever encountered in fiction, and in reading the novel, we fully inhabit his strange mind. Indeed, because he is telling us his story, and because he is so full of self-delusions, the only way we can get to the truth is through the little hints he drops, the occasional omissions in his tales, the gradual realization that he is deceiving us and the other characters see him very differently than he portrays himself.This book is both a work of genius and loads of fun ¿ subtle, dark and delicious. And if you¿re at all interested in food or cooking ¿ as any civilized person must be ¿ there are many interesting rambles on those subjects, as well.
Julia_Chanteray on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm re-reading this book after a gap of several years. I'm enjoying the intensely verbose narrator, even though he's repugnant in many ways, for his misanthropy, right wing views, conservatism, and of course my (dawning) recollection that the book doesn't have a happy ending. It takes a little bearing with to allow the book to get under your skin, but it's having an effect as I've spent the evening eating tasty cheese and drinking a rather fine Pinot Gris, in the manner of the (anti) hero of the book. I promise not to murder anyone tomorrow, even if they annoy me...
LisaLynne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This starts a little slow. A man who is obviously very, very full of himself, expounding on his particular fascinations about food and drink. He has a singular point of view and doesn't allow for much deviation. I found his food snobbery hilarious, although I would not have wanted to share a table with him...especially considering what is to come.As the story progresses, there is a sense that something is going on just under the surface. Perhaps I'm slow on the uptake, but I was 3/4 of the way through the book before I realized just what was going on - and the ending took me completely by surprise! Great fun.
mattviews on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Do you know that word "barbecue" originates from Haitian "barbacado" that refers to a rack-frame system leaving off the ground a bed? Do you know that tomatoes, if imminently picked and allowed to ripe during transport, will turn plasticky and insipid? Do you know that the thickness requirement in preserving the juice in barbecued meat is an inch to 3 inches? Have you ever wondered why starch (such as rice) and fruits, and not a glass of iced water, serve to subdue the spiciness of curry?John Lanchester's The Debt of Pleasure not only deftly answers all the above questions but also, in impeccable and painfully beguiling prose, embraces his readers into the world of Tarquin Winot. Strictly speaking, the book, which is nothing more than a scrumptious culinary reflection in thoughtful menus arranged by the seasons, cannot be deemed as a work of fiction if Winot is a real chef. From his menus, which embody different cultures, capture a man's psychology and thus his impulse to order, and witness the come-and-go of dining trends; Winot related the story of his life to the preparations of food.The writing is as insatiating and titillating as the menus. Winot retreated to southern France and reminisced, papered his thoughts on the subject of food that evoked his childhood, his parents, his brother Barthomelow the artist, the beloved maidservant Mary-Theresa, and the home cook Mitthaug. Aroma of a particular dish could graciously tug his memory and coalesce the disparate locations of Winot's upbringing. Woven into his painfully and haughtily opinionated meditations on food was disheartening anecdotes of his family. His brother struggled as an artist who, like other artists in history, never felt adequately attended to for his work and died a tragic death of fungus poisoning. His parents, in a multiplying series of mishaps that primarily involved leaving all the kitchen gas taps on and a full-scale leak from the gas boiler, died in an explosion triggered by turning on a light switch.The lighter side of the book tells of Winot's aspiration to becoming a chef. He attributed such biographical significance to a chance visit to his brother's boarding school in England. The food served was a nightmarish demonstration of culinary banality and a stark confirmation of Captain Ford's quote in 1846 "The salad is the glory of every French dinner and the disgrace of most in England." A more humorous side would be Winot's rash denunciation of sweet-and-sour dishes (lupsup, meaning garbage) that dominated the English dining. As a native of Hong Kong, the notion truly hit home as any violent combination such as the sweet-and-sour taste is immediately deemed as inauthentic.Read it as a novel "masquerading" as a cookbook, as a memoir, as food critics, as secretive cooking knacks, as word of caution (such as the roasting of apple seeds will release toxins), as an indispensable companion to your conventional cookbook, an eccentric philosophical soliloquy of the culinary art. I vouch that anyone who reads this book will find the recipes zestfully flirting with the tastebuds and liberating the senses. Exquisitely written.