My review #47: Gourmet Rhapsody

Gourmet Rhapsody



156 pages


The Elegance of The Hedgehog   was one of my favorite audiobooks listened to in 2010. Recently, I shared with one more victim my love about this book, and my friend asked if Barbery had written another book. I thought so. I went to my fantastic local library, and oh marvel, here it was! The plot sounded fun, how can you resist a book on food and taste when you are French?? I had not realized that the book was actually focused on a character present in Barbery’s first novel, and even Renée is back – only briefly though.

Barbery was born in Casablanca, and Algeria is very present in this shorter novel, in the ambiance and description of food – ah les cornes de gazelles, I remember also eating those! We also feel the “Pieds Noirs” culture,  as we call French citizens who lived in French Algeria before the Algerian independence.

As in her previous novel, and even more so here, or more strongly, Barbery denounces the artificial veneer of some rich people. In that sense, Pierre Arthens, the hero is ambiguous. You can hate him or pity him, or maybe even love him and want to help him, as he tries to remember this most exquisite taste he once experienced in his life, as he lays now dying. Through this sentence, you can see that you have an interesting mix between Faulkner and Proust, I’m referring of course to As I Lay Dying and to Proust’s famous madeleine which of course IS mentioned in the book. And it works! At least it worked for me, I really enjoyed this book, though I admit it is not as excellent as The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

There are exquisite passages on description of meals, of bread, of taste. I even caught myself salivating while reading. So if you are in a period of fasting, wait, this is NOT the good time to read this book, that will automatically make you hungry.

Barbery lives in Japan, and she’s working on her next novel!


In the heart of Paris, in the posh building made famous in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Pierre Arthens, the greatest food critic in the world, is dying. Revered by some and reviled by many, Monsieur Arthens has been lording it over the world’s most esteemed chefs for years, passing judgment on their creations, deciding their fates with a stroke of his pen, destroying and building reputations on a whim. But now, during these his final hours, his mind has turned to simpler things. He is desperately searching for that singular flavor, that sublime something once sampled, never forgotten, the Flavor par excellence. Indeed, this flamboyant and self-absorbed man desires only one thing before he dies: one last taste.

Thus begins a charming voyage that traces the career of Monsieur Arthens from childhood to maturity across a celebration of all manner of culinary delights. Alternating with the voice of the supercilious Arthens is a chorus belonging to his acquaintances and familiars—relatives, lovers, a would-be protege, even a cat. Each will have his or her say about M. Arthens, a man who has inspired only extreme emotions in people. Here, as in The Elegance of Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery’s story celebrates life’s simple pleasures and sublime moments while condemning the arrogance and vulgarity of power. [Goodreads]


Muriel Barbery is a French novelist and professor of philosophy. Barbery entered the École Normale Supérieure de Fontenay-Saint-Cloud in 1990 and obtained her agrégation in philosophy in 1993. She then taught philosophy at the Université de Bourgogne, in a lycée, and at the Saint-Lô IUFM. [Goodreads]


“In Gourmet Rhapsody, Barbery best expresses her talent, demonstrating sensitivity and profound understanding both of life’s many flavors and of the ways of the human soul, with all its weaknesses and contradictions.”- Food & Beverage Magazine (Italy)

“Muriel Barbery possesses a controlled, rich, and precise language, one that allows readers to taste the very flavors described.”- Corriere della Sera features an interesting interview of Barbery and her translator Alison Anderson.

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads; Weekend Cooking meme.  Click to see other great books related to food.



24 thoughts on “My review #47: Gourmet Rhapsody

  1. Oh this sounds like a must-read. How lucky you were that your library had a copy. I’ll have to see if I can get a hold of it. And I might give Hedgehog a try in audio.


    • yes, I have a fantastic public library! and if a book is not there I can have it for free from other libraries in our system, about 80. I think the audio worked perfectly for the Elegance of the Hedgehog. Renee’s voice was THE perfect concierge’s tone of voice – from a French lady who’s run into many concierges! LOL. Thanks for your comment


  2. I too LOVED The Elegance of the Hedgehog on audio! It was the audiobook that made me realize I liked listening to audiobooks. I tried to listen to Gourmet Rhapsody as soon as it came out, though, and couldn’t. I loved the reader for Renee so much in Elegance that when she wasn’t the same in Gourmet, I didn’t want to listen. Maybe I should try reading it instead?


    • that’s funny! I think I would have had the same reaction: how can I imagine Renee with a different voice now? her tone of voice was so perfectly right! I hope Barbery reads our blogs! LOL! I really encourage you to give a shot at reading Gourmet Rhapsody, it’s shorter; actually Renee does not come that often in there. thanks for your comments, and glad to be your Goodreads friend!


  3. I like the premise of the book. There have been very few dishes that I have tasted that follow me in my memory. The burgers at Basils Bar on the Island of Mustique are one.


    • Yes, I remember a few unique dishes as well. By the way, your salad on your latest post looks sooo good, I had noticed it earlier on. Thanks for your comment


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  5. I have read both this book and Hedgehog-I loved Hedgehog and liked this one-I agree totally the descriptions of food are wonderful and it was fun to be back in the building where the action in Hedgehog took place-I really enjoyed your very well done post


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  7. An excellent review -puts mine to shame – but we’ll have to differ over the book! I loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog and to me this was a real let down. I couldn’t get into the atmosphere or the food in the way that you did so it’s obviously a matter of personal taste (no pun intended!). I’m really glad I read The Elegance of the Hedgehog first or I might have been put off by this and not read it.
    All the best,


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