Jane Jakeman (review date 15 March 1996)
SOURCE: "Dishes to Die for," in New Statesman & Society, March 15, 1996, p. 33.
[In the following review, Jakeman argues that The Debt to Pleasure lacks suspense and suffers from too little attention to detail.]
"Who am I? Who are you? And what the fuck's going on?" The reader of John Lanchester's foodie thriller [The Debt to Pleasure] will inevitably sympathize with the narrator's artist brother, Bartholomew. Hamlet-like, he poses these crucial questions while embedded in a mesh of upmarket gourmandise. Lanchester was the restaurant critic of the Observer, so he has the foodie world at his fingertips in the creation of his murderous anti-hero, Tarquin Winot, for whom haute cuisine is a ruling passion.
Tarquin is a full-blow product of the European great tradition—in food as in literature. He liberally scatters his story with rib-nudging cultural references (hypocrite lecteur), whereas Bartholomew represents the untamed, uncivilized, tomato-sauce-loving force of creative genius. The polarization of our society is thus crudely symbolized by the food preferences of the two brothers. So far, so clichéd; but every thriller is essentially a cliché. The question is what the writer does with the givens of the genre.
Not a lot, in this case. The book takes the form of series of seasonal recipes, and although Tarquin's preface claims an elemental role for the menu (and it is true that all structures can be seen as menus), Lanchester's real and unresolved technical problem is that the plot of the recipe is the opposite of the plot of the thriller.
In the recipe, the outcome is declared at the start. We know at the...
(The entire section is 721 words.)