An examination of debt to pleasure by John Lanchester
One of my greatest pleasures is to eat, so I have to cook. I savor, therefore I cook. I love flavorful dishes made with fresh ingredients that cater to our four tastes – salty, sour, sweet and bitter – to create a complementary whole. Of course, there is now the fifth taste, unami, the expanding universe of soy sauce, which can amplify other inputs. I have just made an English pie, with chicken, mushrooms, a little bacon, seasoning and fresh herbs. It was moistened with broth and an egg before being baked in my own shortcrust pastry. Fresh sauce and vegetables on the side are enough. It therefore has sweet, salty and bitter, but lacks acidity. A squeeze of lemon on the vegetables will compensate.
For the extension, pick up a novel closely related to cooking and read it. Try the recipes, but proceed with caution. Cook things thoroughly before you commit to tasting. John Lanchester’s The Debt to Pleasure is my recommendation. It is a very original and very informative cookbook written by one Tarquin Winot, an expert in the field.
In one of the most original books I’ve ever read, John Lanchester creates a true anti-hero. Too often the concept is passed on to a character who is just a naughty boy doing naughty, often disgusting things, with the concept of “hero” often being ignored. Tarquin Winot, the anti-hero of La Dette au Plaisir, is a brilliant and knowledgeable cook. He’s also very creative, using ingredients that only those who could cook with a purpose would choose to use. He’s also something of a psychopath, maybe. It’s up to you to judge. But he survived to write his cookbook and is apparently enjoying his retirement, thanks to those he fed.
Debt to Pleasure is a superb novel. Tarquin’s narrative draws the perhaps unsuspecting reader into his world, evoking an empathy with and for the character. That we have only partially known this brilliant cook only becomes evident as we progress through his life, a life that he has peppered with his personal peccadilloes. But above all, Tarquin Winot is both a planner and a perfectionist. His culinary creations are thought out, written like dramas to provoke particular reactions, to achieve premeditated ends. They are equally successful, enjoyed by those who consume his concoctions, and ultimately they succeed precisely in the way he plans and executes.
From cover to cover, John Lanchester’s prose is a delight, as stimulating to the mind as his character’s creations can be to the palate. Flowery and extravagant, it can sometimes be too rich in butter and cream for some diets. But The Debt to Pleasure is a satisfying, surprising, and ultimately fulfilling read. Tarquin fulfills both aspects of the anti-hero, and ultimately we are faced with the nature of self-obsession and selfishness.