Monday, May 16, 2011

offing and eating: two book reviews for the price of one

A Long Way Down - Nick Hornby

I am an unabashed fan of Nick Hornby's particular style of boy lit. The easy and comfortable way in which he melds pop culture references with glimpses into the psyche of the modern male are entertaining and entirely satisfying. Reading a Nick Hornby novel is the literary equivalent of an afternoon spent at the movies, ruining your dinner with buttered popcorn and contraband Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. In an entirely good way, of course.

A Long Way Down is in no danger of becoming my favourite Nick Hornby book, but it's still a very fun read. The tale revolves around Martin, Maureen, Jess and JJ, four strangers who encounter each other on a roof top in London on New Year's Eve, each intent on flinging themselves off the roof. They end up agreeing to postpone their suicide plans until Valentine's Day and, despite not having any real affinity for one another, form a club of sorts. A club of misfits, bound together only by the inability to off themselves properly.

The story is told in the first person, with each of the characters taking turns relating their versions of ensuing events. It is here that I encounter the only problem with the book. The narrator will sometimes speak directly to the reader, critiquing their own telling of the story, in the manner of you may not like how I am telling you this, but that's too bad, it's my story sort of approach. I found that approach detracted from the story, and actually erected a barrier between narrator and reader, which I am sure was not Hornby's intent.

But despite that quibble, A Long Way Down is an entertaining book and an enjoyable read. It may not be the pop culture classic that High Fidelity has become or the male psyche discourse that About A Boy can claim to be, but it is a ripping good yarn and I would certainly sneak some chocolates into a matinee to watch a film adaptation, should one ever be made.

Liquor - Poppy Z. Brite

This book was a gift from the Mutford family, a souvenir from their recent trip to New Orleans. As John explains it, they picked out this book for me, not because they had read it themselves, but because I had earlier expressed an interest in the author's evocative name and personal history (a transgendered gay man married to a New Orleans chef). That's as good a way to pique someone's interest in reading as I can think of.

Liquor is the story of Rickey and G-Man, life-long friends, long-time lovers, who both labour as line chefs in the trenches of New Orleans restaurants. Tired of periodically losing their jobs, of being under-appreciated by a series of sketchy bosses, they hit upon a brilliant idea for a restaurant - a high-end dining establishment in which every single dish is based around liquor.

With no money of their own, Rickey and G-Man attract the attention and ultimately the backing of a celebrity chef, resulting in a some old enemies emerging from the shadows to wreak revenge upon the couple, as they struggle to open their restaurant in a very competitive food scene. Murder and intrigue ensue.

Liquor is a fast-paced, funny novel that verges at times on food porn in its intricate depictions of culinary experiments. It's clear that Poppy Z. Brite has a great deal of affection and understanding of New Orlean's ever evolving restaurant culture. I was particularly intrigued by descriptions of life behind the scenes in the kitchens of high-end restaurants, and I finished the book feeling that, not only had I been entertained by a high-energy tale of intrigue, but that I had learned something about an industry with which I had previously only had familiarity with as a clueless consumer.

Frankly, I would kill for some of Rickey's cognac cheese straws right now.


John Mutford said...

Yay! Glad you enjoyed it-- though I feel simultaneously drunk and hungry just reading the review. It sounds like what I wanted and didn't get from Timothy Taylor's Stanley Park.

I have the Nick Hornby on my shelf and will get to it...eventually.

Allison said...

I haven't read that Hornby novel. I recently finished Juliet, Naked by him and it was enjoyable. You're quite right - he's books are a bit like candy and the movies.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

There sure is a lot of drinking that goes down in New Orleans, John! I'm surprised you made it out as unscathed as you did.
Very enjoyable book, with a couple of affable characters. Thanks again!

And we all need a little candy at the movies now and then, Al. Good for the soul. I'll have to keep an eye peeled for Juliet, Naked at my local library.

Charlie said...

You're a great book reviewer, Barb, but I tend toward the second one. If you're interested in the real restaurant biz, I suggest Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.

Off Topic: Since you're also a music person, take a look at the post I just put up and tell me what you think.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Thanks for the tip, Charlie. Anthony Bourdain is an interesting cat; I will look for his book, for sure.
Coming right over to check out your post, you have my curiosity.