Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery

This prequel to the New York Times bestseller The Elegance of the Hedgehog tells the story of another occupant of the posh apartment building in Paris: the great food critic Pierre Arthens. As his life draws to a close, he reflects back on its many flavors, and on a singular sublime something, once sampled and never forgotten.

A fine example of a well written book…. but not necessarily the book for me.


I have found myself drawn to books about food lately.  I have dabbled a bit  with food critics (Garlic and Sapphire), and a little with food magicians (Cake Boss ) as well as books with delicious recipes in them that makes even a non baker (the villagers have voted and the answer was “no”) like myself wants to don an apron and a wooden spoon and try my hand at some of the mouth-watering treasures….

Total run on (or run away) sentence.

My point being…. that while in Honduras I was browsing through the one book store opportunity I had and was refusing to leave without having made a bookish purchase.

After much pacing and admiring of some of favorite titles in Spanish, I walked out of the store having spent 385 Limperas on this book.  (About 20 Limperas to the dollar so I paid a little over $18  for this book. )

While I found the writing richly worded in a style that I savored… I found that I tended to drift and skim pages as I found the main character, the Maitre’, more and more unlikable.  He was not very found of his wife and admitted to not liking his children.  While on his death-bed he scoffs at his wife’s loyalty and sadness and even states that he will not miss her.   In fact I believe the only thing this sniveling of a man (and I use the term loosely) seemed to appreciate was his palate for food.

(At this point, I remind myself there was two reasons I wanted to read this book:  1)  I had heard good things about this author with ‘The Elegance Of The Hedgehog’ which I have yet to read, and 2) it’s a foodie book… and I found I am interested in this topic.

So… I read on…

And to please the foodie in me, I can say I did enjoy the  mouth watering pictures that came to mind as Muriel Barbery describes the freshness of a chunky orange sorbet, grilled sardines, and Greek loukamades (hot donuts trickled with honey).

While I puzzled my way through the different narrators that lend a voice to this book I still marveled at the descriptive writing, even if I did occasionally get lost in the words.  Overall, I appreciated the writing but found the storyline hard to follow.  I enjoyed reading about the food, yet found myself skimming the pages for more foodish topics….

bottom line, it just did not hold my attention.

I do still look forward to Muriel Barbery’s ‘Elegance Of The Hedgehog’ and am curious now how it will compare to this read.

Amazon Rating

Purchased in Tegucigalpa Honduras

21 thoughts on “Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery

  1. I really enjoyed this book. I loved the descriptive passages about food, him. but the main character wasn’t a nice person at all. The way he treated everyone around him was awful. So cold. His love of food far outweighed his love of people.

  2. I’d always heard this one was far easier than Hedgehog, which I liked but it took me forever to read it! I think if I read this one, I’ll listen to it on audio. When books are very verbose, I tend to do better on audio. It forces me to slow down!

    1. Wow really Amanda? I want to give Hedgehog a try (it is on my tbr shelf) but that scares me that this one is suppose to be easier. Maybe my setting wasn’t right… I was on the plane coming home and I was tired. 🙂

  3. Sometimes it happens. It sounds like you did enjoy the food part…too bad that the author didn’t develop that a bit more and cut back on the characters!

  4. Hi–found you through the BookHop this week. I don’t think you can compare the two Barbery books. I think of Gourmet Rhapsody as a companion piece to the amazing world found in Elegance.

    Though I liked the book without liking the characters, I agree with you: the food writing in this book is amazing! You don’t want to read it on an empty stomach or else you’ll binge on whatever food is to hand! Even though I’m not a particularly big fan of raw oysters, the passage written about his first raw oyster was a thing of sensual beauty.

    The Europa books are a great series to bring little-known non-American writers to an English speaking audience. If you don’t know them already, I recommend the short stories of Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, also brought out by Europa in the US.

  5. I have this one sitting on my shelf, and I purchased it because I adored Hedgehog soooooooooooo much!

    I think, if you give Hedgehog a try, you will be pleasantly, pleasantly surprised. It may take a bit of getting used to, but it is well worth the patience in the end.

    I remember finishing the book while working in the library, and I was desperately hoping no one would walk through the door because there were tears streaming down my face!

  6. At least you pushed through it! I feel like even if I don’t like a book completely to get through it can be a challenge. I’m not sure I could read a book that made me hungry.. lol. I’d end up cooking instead of reading most likely.

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