The Last Banquet, by Jonathan Grimwood. Published 2013 by Europa Edition.
The Last Banquet is
a novel set in the fading days of ancien regime France; Jean-Marie
d'Aumont comes from an aristocratic line but his parents are dead,
starved to death because the law forbids them to work. He has been
placed in a school for the aristocracy, where he mixes with those above
and beneath his own station, wealthier boys of the nobility and nouveaux
riches alike who will become lifelong friends and rivals in different
ways. But right from the start Jean-Marie is different, marked out by
his obsession with all things gustatory.
Emile is his
first friend, a wealthy boy of unclear lineage whom the other boys do
not fully accept. Jean-Marie comes to see that friends like Charlot, a
duke's son, will get him farther in life. When Charlot invites
Jean-Marie to his chateau, Jean-Marie fixes his attentions on pretty
Virginie, Charlot's sister, and even saves her life. In the mean time
Jean-Marie begins more studied experiments with food and eating, and he
records many of his recipes in this book, which comprise his memoirs and
which we realize he is writing near the end of his life.
growth and life span the end of the old days, before the revolution
swept away the aristocratic way of life. He sees filth and corruption at
the highest levels of society, and eventually finds love in a place he
never expected. He marries, has children, and watches one of his
children die. He grows as an artist of food and corresponds with many of
the leading minds of his generation. His trajectory mirrors that of his
milieu, and their end is his end.
The Last Banquet is the first hardcover novel published by Europa which is known for its attractive and distinctive French-flapped paperbacks. It's a very strong novel that I think Francophiles and foodies will enjoy along with historical-fiction readers.
Jean-Marie's adventures are fun to follow, picaresque in style as it
were without a strong overarching plot- like a fictional biography, and
there is sweetness and humor mixed in with the history, melodrama and
action. I'm not sure I want to try too many of the book's recipes, but I
found The Last Banquet to be a fine, meaty literary meal.
This is my 14th book for the 2013 Challenge!
FTC Disclosure: I received a copy for review from Europa Editions.