The Europa rep at BEA raved about this novel, therefore I simply had to read it…how could I not? And here are my conclusions:
Jean-Marie d’Aumout’s sharply distinctive and intelligent voice narrates his life story spanning 18th-century France, from desperate poverty to the viciousness of boarding school for destitute aristocratic boys, to military academy, marriage that brings fortune and titles, and beyond, to face his own demise. “Our lives are built almost entirely on a foundation of events colliding,” D’Aumout philosophically states, as he ponders the unlikely chain of events that comprise his life.
D’Aumont rises to fame guided by his exceptional sense of taste and eagerness to explore flavors without regard to social taboos. A primal desire to sample all the world offers guides him in his journey through the rise of the Enlightenment, the war with Corsica, and the fall of the aristocracy in the French Revolution. He is a man of great intellect, with an undisguised disdain for the degenerative decadence of Versailles, comparing the “underlying sourness” of the food at the palace with its corruption; corresponding with the likes of other great minds of the time – Voltaire, de Sade, and Benjamin Franklin, for example. But he is also lover, husband, and father, with a fondness for rescuing exotic creatures that earned him the title Lord Master of the Menagerie.
The Last Banquet is a bold gastronomic adventure (one not for the squeamish, however), a quest to fully live before the passage of time and history stamps out the flame. Written with just the right combination of rumination, contemplation, and startling – at times shocking – action, the prose is seductive and sophisticated. Jean-Marie D’Aumont is an ingenious human embodiment of the age of reason, with an at times morbid streak of scientific and intellectual curiosity, matched by a profound and masterful understanding of the human condition. Another fine work of literary fiction from Europa Editions. Highly recommended.
The next two books I’ve taken on for the HNS (to help reduce the orphan pile!) are Escape from Paris by Carolyn Hart, a reprint–sort of because it includes the entire text, some of which had to be cut for the first edition–of her 1986 WW2 thriller; and The Daring Ladies of Lowell, a drama set in the mid-ninteenth-century Massachusetts textile mills. I have also received Liza Perrat’s second novel, Wolfsangel, set in the French village of Lucie-sur-Vionne, this time during the German occupation of France in 1943. I am excited for this one, and will write a full review here.