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Me and My Big Mouth: "This is a ripping yarn yet beautifully written."

Date: Aug 26 2013

From the moment he is discovered scavenging dung beetles by a passing nobleman, Jean-Marie d’Aumont leads a charmed life. Patronage elevates him to privilege and this, coupled with some happy accidents, brings him fame and riches, a beautiful wife and political influence.

But all Jean-Marie really wants to do is discover the perfect taste.

From cooking cats and rats when he is at school, to wolf’s heart at military academy, to lion and loris while keeper of the King’s menagerie he tries everything. Sure, a lot of it tastes like chicken but there is the occasional discovery that truly excites his palate such as his first taste of Roquefort or the legendary Brocciu di Dónna (cheese made from the breast milk of Corsican women).

d’Aumont’s is a sensual life and The Last Banquet his life story. The fact that it takes place among the aristocracy of 18th century France adds an element of inevitable doom so it is no surprise towards the end of the book when the revolution comes, quite literally, knocking at his door. The surprises and wonders are all in the pages that take us to that point.

His loves (Grimwood is particularly good in those sections), his adventures (saving a maiden from a wolf, surviving a war in Corsica), his recipes (flamingo tongue, anyone?) are evoked with such verve and energy that I found it impossible not to sail through these pages, no matter how much I wanted to linger. This is a ripping yarn beautifully written.

It would be very lazy reviewing to compare this to Patrick Suskind’s Perfume but a) there are obvious parallels between the two books, b) Grimwood’s evocation of the sense of taste has no other sensual rival among the novels I have read and c) I am a very lazy reviewer. Make of that what you will, but I should add that I consider Perfume to be a modern classic and The Last Banquet is easily its equal.

I rarely get to the end of a book and wish it were longer. This is one of those rare occasions. I spent two days in the company of Jean-Marie d-Aumout, I would have loved to spend two weeks.

One of my books of the year.