Jump to content
Freewheeling Andy

My other favourite modern novel

Recommended Posts

Well, I've raved on and on about Cloud Atlas, so I'll rave a bit about my other favourite modern novel.

 

I wandered in to Waterstones today to get a coffee, and there it was, sitting lonesome on the shelf, next to about 20 copies of the spectacularly inferior Mr Phillips, and, amazingly, no copies of the excellent Fragrant Harbour.

 

The Debt To Pleasure, by John Lanchester. I picked it up as a gift (and because I can't lend my copy as that was lent about 3 years ago and not returned). By the time I finished the coffee I was again 20 or 30 pages in, and wanting to finish it. I refrained, because it is, after all, a gift, and I don't want to give it in a tatty, already-read state.

 

I don't know what to say about it without giving it away, but it's the funniest, most brilliant, most obsessively foody, fun, and wonderful book. You love and hate the narrator, you love some of his comments, and his outspokenness, you despise other parts of his snobbery.

 

But he is not really the narrator. He is the first person author of a cookbook.

 

The novel is written as a cook book and offers fantastic cooking advice, apart from anything else.

 

I can't tell you how utterly in love with this book I am.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll have to re-read this one Andy, so thanks for the reminder. If you liked it (er, which you clearly did) you might also like Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, to which The Debt to Pleasure owes a clear, well, debt of inspiration. The same barmy narrator, possible murderer, twisted format etc. Definitely one to consider if you haven't read it already.

 

I must admit I gave up on Lanchester after Mr Phillips. But am I right in thinking you also recommend his last book, Fragrant Harbour?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Fragrant Harbour is very different, but I loved it. It's a bunch of intertwined stories, fragmented in time, set largely around Hong Kong. Excellent, but less dark. Mr Phillips was a bit pants.

 

I've not read Pale Fire. I was generally advised (by usually reliable people) that whilst Lolita was great, Nabokov's other books are pretty hard work. I'll keep an eye open for it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I suppose they can be hard work, but so can Lolita, and generally effort in reading is repaid... Pale Fire though is pretty easy going. The format is a 999-line poem by John Shade, who died recently. His literary executor Charles Kinbote follows the poem with his own detailed line-by-line analysis of it. It sounds up-its-own-arse - and it is in a way - but it's funny and full of interesting stuff, mainly trying to work out just how mad Kinbote is. He believes himself, for example, to be the exiled King of Zembla, and to be on the run from an assassin who may or may not have connections with John Shade. Plus when he tells us about his own interactions with Shade and his widow, we discover that he's not only lying, but possibly dangerous... Good fun in a brain-workout way.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm currently rereading The Debt to Pleasure on your enthusiastic recommendation, Andy! It's extremely funny, and a rare example of a book which is ludicrously over-written and pretentious but which is all the better for it - because it gives us such an insight into Tarquin Winot's personality.

 

Already, less than halfway through, the less-than-subtle hints have made it clear what his real reasons are for fleeing Britain to go to France - or it could be also that I'm remembering it from my first time round, a full decade ago. But the journey is enjoyable even if the destination is clear.

 

Incidentally I am finding this time around that as well as Nabokov, the voice reminds me of one of Gilbert Adair's more self-satisfied narrators (perhaps in his best novel, The Death of the Author) and also of James Lasdun's creepy unreliables in The Horned Man and Seven Lies.

 

At the same time I'm wondering if there is really anything more to it than the clever set-up and revelation of Tarquin's true habits through the wonderfully over-ripe language - or is it all a bit of a one-joke book (rather, indeed, like Nabokov's Pale Fire)? Or perhaps that's enough! Plenty enjoyable anyway.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×