Little Culinary Triumphs
by Pascale Pujol
Translated by Alison Anderson
Original French title:
Petits plats de résistance
Genre: Literary Fiction
Little Culinary Triumphs is so French-weird that it’s hard to present. And consequently, my opinion about it is not that clear-cut either. But I’m French myself, so that makes sense, right? We have the reputation of never being happy about anything, of always complaining, lol.
First thing you notice: the 28 chapter titles are all related to food: Dog Food, Apple Turnover, Bouillon, Choucroute, and Vindaloo, Bouillabaisse (which contains a hearing scene, doubly hilarious with that title), Champagne (see for the explosive grand finale!), etc.
At first, all the chapters seem quite disconnected. It feels like somebody randomly threw out short vignettes on pages, like a pack of cards that fell, and you are supposed to find some order to them. So you might want to take notes for the various characters.
The book opens with a funny sentence:
If Karine had known better how to use the rhythm method, none of the following story would ever have happened.
So, as Karine Becker is on maternity leave, she is replaced by Sandrine Cordier.
Her passion had been food, but her family had wanted something more respectable for her, so she ended up studying law… Unfortunately, she married too early to have time to get a decent degree. So she now works as an adviser at the public employment service. Her job is to help the unemployed find a job.
To help with their income, her husband Guillaume finds old magazines and resells them.
They have 2 children, Aurélien and Juliette. At 12, she is already a super smart geek and a hacker.
Juliette has a great relationship with her grandmother Marité (Guillaume’s mother). Marité is not your usual grandma. She does the books under the table for a major sex shop in Pigalle. And she does not hesitate to give some booze to her teenage granddaughter, who helps her run her erotic website for senior citizens.
She lives with them, having been evicted, as the owner of her building wanted to renovate and reput it on the market for much more money – a detail related to some major themes in the novel.
At her work, Sandrine works on Antoine Lacuenta’s file. He is overqualified, with many diplomas. And very strict on policies to respect and protect the environment, which does not help him find or keep jobs.
Sandrine starts to get interested in Antoine’s special case. She may be able to find him a special occupation…
For now, Antoine lives in a hostel for men with very low income. But it will soon close, because of lack of budget. However, the bunch of very colorful (and I’m not just talking about the color of their skin) characters are ready to fight.
Then we meet Marcel Lacarrière, CEO of a press company and his son Laurent. Their magazine is too traditional, no longer attractive, so the company is not doing well. Thankfully, the employee Luc Bricard, Marcel’s ambitious right-hand man, who dreams of becoming the new CEO, is resourceful and is coming up with a (rather unconventional) plan against their main competitor. All goes well, until his path meets another go-getter…
Let’s not forget the sexologist Annabelle Villemin-Dubreuil, who writes a successful column for their magazine – yes, there are lots of mentions of sex in the book.
Little by little, you start seeing how everything is getting connected, and how the characters will meet. All the characters are very well defined. I tended to really enjoy being in the company of the men at the hostel and of young Juliette.
The book contains very hilarious lines and scenes (for instance on magazines and sex), and a lot of dark humor on hot topics for current French culture and society, such as unemployment, unemployment agencies, immigrants, housing, corruption, and law, or any other topic, as illustrated by these two quotations:
Samuel Benoliel was melting a bit more with each step, his short sticking sweatily to his back. His black suit was made of synthetic material whose thermal properties far exceeded those of most solar panels on the market.
“Those are dry toilets,” she said emphatically, as seriously as possible, emphasizing the penultimate word. “They’re only for the initiated, you have to have a membership card form the Green Party.”
And I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that it literally ends with a fart – quite French!, proof that fun and justice can still prevail in our corrupted world, hence the word ‘triumph’ in the English title.
All along, there are amazingly delicious passages on food, not just about classic French dishes, but about cuisine from various countries. I really loved those!!
Cooking was not simply a matter of human survival, but belonged to a truly spiritual realm, a sort of magic, a powerful alchemy that must not be taken lightly.
The original French title – Petits plats de résistance – does of course refer to food (petits plats and plat de résistance, which refer to what Americans call entrée!). Résistance also refers to the French movement that fought against the Nazi German occupation of France during WWII, and simply to any form of resisting against something, like right now the #GiletsJaunes rising against extra gas taxes.
Satire is not my favorite genre. The book is very funny, outrageously so many times. But ultimately, it is cleverly plotted and organized.
And the translation is by the amazing Alison Anderson, so even though Little Culinary Triumphs didn’t win me completely, I have to admit it’s a satisfying first novel by Pujol in English.
And if you are looking for something different, if you want to read outside your comfort zone, go for it!
VERDICT: French urban comedy, with delicious food, sex, and crazy scenes on very serious topics. As only the French can do in pursuit of justice.
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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this ebook free of charge from the publisher through Edelweiss. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.
Great review! One of your best this year I think.
oh wow, in what sense? What makes a great review? Better than the one on The Blue?