I’ve been listening to the fabulous Inspector Bruno books by Martin Walker which are set in the Dordogne. Bruno is an excellent cook and he loves to invite his friends for dinner, so the reader is treated to mouth-watering descriptions of what he cooks. The books always make me feel the need to go to the fridge in the hopes that someone might have put something delicious in there.
This started me thinking about books that contain wonderful descriptions of food. My granddaughter is very fond of two – The Very Hungry Caterpillar eats his way through cake, salami, fruit and cheese, but I’ve never thought that green eggs with ham sounded very appetising (green is not a good colour for meat!).
But what about some books for adults that make you peckish, thinking about food? Zola’s Le Ventre de Paris (The Belly of Paris) is set mainly in Les Halles food markets, and the reader is plunged into a maelstrom of food and smells and intrigue. Five pages of the novel are dedicated to cheeses (the passage is known as ‘the cheese symphony’) with “the camemberts, suggesting high game; the neufchâtels, the limbourgs, the marolles, the pont-l’évèques, each adding its own shrill note”.
Other ‘food-oriented’ books include Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester, The Flounder by Günther Grass (which has been described as “one long meal”), The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais, Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Reading that run-together list in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (“coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssalad frenchrollscresssandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater”) always fills me with a desire to go off on a picnic with a well-filled hamper. Enid Blyton’s novels made me long for crumpets with lashings of honey, scones piled with jam and whipped cream, and biscuits galore. Other novels horrify you by their lack of food – Hunger by Knut Hamsun, and the memoir Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt are two examples.
Food can be used so cleverly in novels – as a symbol of wealth, generosity, meanness, luxury, enjoyment of life, or of hardship (the women prisoners in A Town Like Alice seem to eat nothing but rice). Emma uses food brilliantly to depict a sense of community, and Mr Woodhouse’s obsession with gruel is one of the marvellous jokes of the novel.
What books get you salivating? Do you like novels or memoirs which also include recipes? Do you want an author to tell you exactly how a character makes a particular dish? Does reading food-filled books send you scurrying to pantry or fridge? Let me know in a comment.
The Dordogne Mysteries by Martin Walker
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester
The Flounder by Günther Grass
The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Hunger by Knut Hamsun
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
Emma by Jane Austen