The Last Banquet
Europa Editions, 2013
The protagonist of this novel is an orphan, Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumout, whose parents have died of hunger: they were aristocrats, but for the debts everything had been taken from them. After their death, little Jean-Marie lived by himself, alone, eating insects and herbs, until he was picked up in 1723 by some aristocrats and sent to an orphanage, where Jean-Marie was fed twice a day and kept in the barn. At seven, he goes to St. Luke's School, with the children of titular officials of France. There the boys also live and study science. Jean-Marie’s best friend becomes Emile Duras, whose father was a lawyer. In the course of training, Jean-Marie secretly learns to cook different dishes from the most unlikely ingredients, from mice to cats. The boy from an early age has developed a taste, and he is always in pursuit of new flavors.
When Jean-Marie has the opportunity to select desired profession, he chooses to be a cook. He is allowed to work in the kitchen to help chefs, learn new recipes. Ahead of the protagonist lays a long eventful life.
The novel has been compared to Suskind’s Perfume, but I haven’t read Perfume, so I can not compare them. What The Last Banquet reminded me is it's like a mix between Victor Hugo with an adventure novel by Jules Verne. Before us is really entertaining historical fiction, full of real characters, not boring at all and quite clever.
Style of the book is one of its biggest advantages. Usually this kind of literature suffers from historicisms, stylization to literature of the past, and, therefore, such literature is hard to grasp. It is clumsy, slow, pompous, it smells musty. Fantasist Grimwood writes fiction, on the contrary, easily, skillfully, adding to the authenticity of it here and there the French word, archaic expression, historical detail. So we does not forget that the events are taking place in the XVIII century, but it does not take away from the novel its lightness and elasticity.
Grimwood remains a fantasy writer, skillfully alternating between adventures and amorous affairs. There is a lot of adventures for the main character and his friends from the dog's execution to the final with a tigress. Events are rushing gallop, you would’nt have time to yawn. The protagonist of the novel, Jean-Marie, is an interesting character. He feels very keenly the world, wanting to know everything that this world has to offer. Orphan, who became Marquis, try the taste animals, insects, women, developing his taste - gastronomic. But this novel has not converged on a wedge of gastronomy. The desire to know everything through a tongue is just one of the desires of the Marquis. He just has a zest for life. He is pulled to the animals, to women, to nature, to politics, to philosophy, but he seemed to be indifferent to their own children. Jean-Marie is a controversial person: on the one hand, he quickly becomes bored of the old things like he was bored of his wife, on the other, he remains faithful for many years – he’s loyal to friends, the tigress, his king.
If Grimwood had put events of the book in a fictional country, not in France, in front of us there would be a fantasy. But Grimwood has chosen the path of the historical novel. And it is still quite tasty.