First, let me declare a disinterest. John Lanchester and I are both involved, in different ways, with the London Review of Books, but otherwise have nothing to do with one another. Now that's out of the way, onto the novels. Lanchester's first, The Debt to Pleasure (1996), begins: 'This is not a conventional cookbook' - a more interesting way of saying that it is an unconventional novel. And so we are introduced to Tarquin Winot: gastronome, aesthete, snob, psychopath, and one of the most gloriously monstrous, deluded, hilarious, chilling characters to narrate an English-language novel since Humbert Humbert. Tarquin is making his circuitous way from Portsmouth to his house in the South of France (or the 'S. of F.', as he would have it), narrating his unconventional cookbook as he goes 'with the aid of a seductively miniaturised Japanese dictaphone'. The Debt to Pleasure is organised around three narrative structures: namely, in decreasing order of overtness, the cookbook, arranged seasonally, a method Tarquin filches (unacknowledged) from Margaret Costa; the travelogue of Tarquin's journey to Provence; and, gradually teased out between courses, the story of Tarquin's unorthodox life.
LRB 25 July 2002 | PDF Download