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review 2016-07-23 01:14
Gourmet Rhapsody
Gourmet Rhapsody - Muriel Barbery

After reading Barbery’s sensational “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”, I absolutely had to get my hands on a copy of “Gourmet Rhapsody”. Yet for the longest time, and much to my despair, the only copies I could find were in large bookstores and at a big price. Earlier this week while out with a friend I ended up wandering into a used bookstore and was delighted to find a brand-new copy of the book at a decent price, instantly snatching it and running for the checkout as if I’ve just broken the law. I feel like I was meant to find this book, and if I thought Barbery’s other novel was brilliant then I simply have no words to convey how much I loved “Gourmet Rhapsody”.


“Gourmet Rhapsody” is another great example of the differences between European and American literature. Specifically, the latter still tends to focus on the minute, using them to approach bigger topics in ways that American does not, instead choosing the cut path of plot and constant straight-forward action. Barbery’s style instead allows the reader to think, to absorb all of the words she has laid out and connect them back to each other. The novel is not so much about a dying food critic as it is about using that situation to present a case of a dying man who is a rich bourgeois snob with a rather impeccable taste, a case study around which revolves an entire microcosm of people who either blatantly hate him or have a hate-but-still-love kind of relationship to him.


The alternating style of the chapters makes every chapter enjoyable for a different reason. In the chapters which focus specifically on Pierre Arthens, the reader is immersed into a tiny fragment of Arthens’ life via a specific food, in a few cases replaced by a beverage – whiskey – or a condiment – mayonnaise. The details are carefully selected to present Arthens’ character without giving the flat-out description of him. Rather, the reader can pick up all of the adjectives from the way he talks about sorbet or is cruel in talking about certain people from his past. In the second style of chapter, the reader is instead confronted with the viewpoint of people, as well as a statue (from how I interpreted it) and a cat, who talk about Arthens’, what they think of him and their relation to him. Needless to say most of them despise him, and for good reason. Some of the speakers one can guess based on the hints given about them in their chapter – a beggar, Arthens’ wife Anna, his children, etc. – while some are foggier. While some will criticize the fact that the characters weren’t developed, I’d say there was absolutely no need for them to be – that is, in the American novel’s understanding of character development, where the entire backstory and description is given. The people are characterized through their thoughts far more than they would be by their backstories, by the reader knowing that they went from stage A to B to C in their life. That would serve of no use in the novel, and Barbery doesn’t bother with such triviality. Instead, she focuses on the harmonious shift from one character to another, always relating them back to Pierre Arthens, who remains the center of the universe in the novel.


There is such a delectable, sensual intimacy in the writing that it’s impossible to justly describe in words. Reading it made me feel like I was eating something from my childhood that I loved yet hadn’t had for ages. It was a sense of comfort that one experiences only upon finding a book, and an author, who truly understands. Arthens is a terrible man, there is no doubt of that. But the book is about so much more than that. I’d perhaps parallel it to Proust’s madeleine, which is brought up in the novel at one point. Yet where the madeleine focuses only on the moment of realization that occurs in one split second, “Gourmet Rhapsody” instead is conscious of the beauty in details the entire time, the madeleine moment appearing at the very end in a slightly different kind of burst of realization. It’s a book that some will no doubt call snobby and pretentious, and this is fine and to be expected in fact, for it is written for a rather specific audience. It reminded me of why I love European literature that much more, both classical and contemporary, and gave me comfort in knowing that though I constantly feel like I don’t fit in with the North American mindset due to my European upbringing, there are still little gems throughout literature and other aspects of culture that reassure me that my way of thinking and my aesthetic are shared by someone else out there.

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text 2016-07-02 14:22
June wrap up
Healing Spices Cookbook: 50 Wonderful Spices, and How to Use Them in Healthgiving, Immunity-boosting Foods and Drinks - Kirsten Hartvik
Gravity Spike: Episode Six of The Chronicles of the Harekaiian - Shanna Lauffey
The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery (2016-02-09) - Muriel Barbery
Taste of Persia: A Cook's Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan - Naomi Duguid
American Notes For General Circulation - Charles Dickens,Patricia Ingham
The New Science of the Paranormal: From the Research Lab To Real Life - Carl Llewellyn Weschcke,Joe H. Slate
Something Wicked: A Ghost Hunter Explores Negative Spirits - Debi Chestnut
Soframiz: Vibrant Middle Eastern Recipes from Sofra Bakery and Cafe - Ana Sortun,Maura Kilpatrick
Classic German Baking: The Very Best Recipes for Traditional Favorites, from Pfeffernüsse to Streuselkuchen - Luisa Weiss
The Second Book of Crystal Spells: More Magical Uses for Stones, Crystals, Minerals... and Even Salt - Ember Grant

I finished 10 books this month, Yay!


To be fair, 4 of them were cookbooks. Those and 4 others were Netgalley review books, so just two were non-Netgalley. These were American Notes by Charles Dickens, which was sort of dry non-fiction but interesting enough to read through in small doses, and Gravity Spike, the 6th in the time travel series by Shanna Lauffey that I enjoy so much.


I still have a backlog of netgalley books to try to get through this month, but my guilty pleasure book still in progress is Phantom by Susan Kay. Really enjoying that one, but letting myself savour it while I push through the review backlog.


I have some potentially good ones coming up from my Netgalley shelf. Fingers crossed!

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review 2016-06-23 08:31
The Life of Elves
The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery (2016-02-09) - Muriel Barbery

by Muriel Barbery


This Fantasy story has a very fairytale-like tone to the narration and starts rather abruptly, as if in the middle of the story, but the reader soon catches up and the situation becomes apparent. A foundling child, Clara, appears under mysterious circumstances and is adopted into a Christian home to have a normal human childhood, but something about her is very fairy-like.


Another child, Maria, who "talks like most people sing" is adopted in similarly strange circumstances in Italy. The connection between these little girls becomes apparent as the story unfolds.


There is very little dialogue, especially in the early chapters, but the story is told in an adult's version of the fairy-tale storytelling voice with a sort of dreamy quality. It is not an immersive read, yet it is entertaining enough to keep reading, despite sketchy description of what's going on. A lot of new characters are introduced through the story and their non-human nature is often inferred more than made clear.


There are digressions to tell background stories of various characters and sometimes it really is like following a dream, jumping from one sequence to another with only a tentative hold on the connections, but all is made clear by the end. I noted in the acknowledgements that it is translated from French, which explains some of this.


Overall a pleasant Fantasy read, but not one that will stimulate the emotions to a great extent.

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review 2016-06-07 00:00
The Life of Elves
The Life of Elves - Muriel Barbery The Life of Elves - Muriel Barbery I live in a a countryside, in Italy, and so when I picked up this book, The Life of Elves from Gallic Books I knew what I would have met and I haven't been disappointed. The book is translated wonderfully well and the plot to me similar, although distant at the same time for style and purpose from the one written by Joanne Harris: Chocolat.

Yes because the arrival of two outsiders in these two remote portion of lands, Spain and Abruzzo, and in two countrysides very well "captured" by the author, changed the course of the events for these simple people and lands...

The description of the italian countryside is perfect.

These kids had two gifts, the one of the vision of the past the first one in Spain and the one of music, the second living in Italy.

It's an emotional and a magical trip of sensations in rural lands where people have a big heart and where people believes at the power of certain people and at the enchantment that they can bring with...themselves

Scenarios also big cities as Rome, where for example the musician teenager will discover all the eccentricities of her Maestro. I recognized in that treats the ones I met in old and so-called important people when I was little and their desire of telling who they were sharing their opinions about various topics .
I was enchanted by the writing-style of Barbery. I didn't read her first book and I decided I will do that as soon as possible. To me a privilege to read her second book thanks to Netgalley.com.

I recommend this book to all that spirits in search for something magical, abstract, different, to all that people in love for discovering rural places but at the same time at all that human being in love for magic.
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-05-16 18:32
Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog
The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery

We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.

Then there's Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter.

Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Renée's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us. [ synopsis from goodreads ]


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