John Lanchester Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

John Lanchester The Debt to Pleasure

Lanchester is an English novelist.

Set primarily in France, The Debt to Pleasure (1996) is narrated by Tarquin Winot, a middle-aged Englishman who despises his late brother Bartholomew, a famous sculptor. Tarquin argues that the true height of artistic expression is not to create things but to make them disappear. Although purportedly taking a gastronomic tour of France, it eventually becomes apparent that Tarquin is stalking a pair of newlyweds; Laura Tavistock, the bride, is Bartholomew's biographer. Divided into four sections—Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn—the novel incorporates recipes for each season along with Tarquin's musings on various culinary, historical, and philosophical subjects. He also offers fragments of autobiography, which gradually unveil his psychopathic nature. Critical reaction to The Debt to Pleasure has generally been favorable. Although some commentators have questioned the efficacy of using a menu or recipe as a structuring device for a thriller, most have praised Lanchester's technique of slowly unraveling the true nature of his protagonist. Other critics have compared the novel to the works of Vladimir Nabokov, noting similarities between the two authors in their gradual subversion of their narrator-protagonists. Michael Upchurch stated that "Lanchester has devised a near-perfect package in which to unveil [Tarquin Winot], layer by layer, lending The Debt to Pleasure the tension of a mystery."