Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Julian Barnes - Flaubert's Parrot and The Pedant in the Kitchen

Since “An Expert in Murder” is turning out to be a disappointment I stopped reading it and picked up Julian Barnes’ “Flaubert’s Parrot” (1984) and liked it so much I immediately started “The Pedant in the Kitchen” (2003) which I just finished.

“Parrot” and “pedant” are two very different books – the first a novel that, until about half way through reads like pure non-fiction, and the second a collection of columns on food, cooking, recipe books etc.

“Parrot” delves into the life of Flaubert in various ways as our protagonist attempts to solve a biographical puzzle: which one of two surviving stuffed Amazon parrots is the actual one which sat at Flaubert’s desk while he wrote “Un coeur simple”?

A bit pedantic, do you think? To spend so much time around a tiny bit of trivia regarding a book not even considered one of the author’s most important? But then Barnes is a self-proclaimed pedant – in the kitchen and elsewhere.

“Pedant” is much lighter and funnier in tone – maybe because as Flaubert himself affirmed each subject calls for a specific style – and makes much of the ways in which cookbooks toy with our amateur aspirations, providing unrealistic photos, vague quantities and plain crazy instructions.

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