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The Oyster House Siege -- part three

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<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169818388/gallery_29805_1195_25597.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Jay Rayner

Five

They laid the unconscious waiter carelessly down on the floor to one side of the swing doors. A pinkness was returning to his cheeks and lips now that Trevor had released his grip, but the blood around the tines of the fork, where it was stuck in his throat, was beginning to darken and coagulate. Behind them the diners, who had been herded into the kitchen, crackled with terror and pushed towards the back of the room. Most had turned away from the kitchen doors towards a point in the back wall that Nathan could not see. A few were dressed in white jackets and aprons. Others wore their night-time costumes, jewellery shining beneath the kitchen's white lights.

Nathan said, as if to himself, 'Quiet.' He turned to Trevor, who was standing by the partially open door and watching the police lights flash against the walls of the stairwell. 'There are too many people down here,' he said. There was a tightness in the way he spoke that made him sound impatient. 'We can't control this many people.' Trevor stared at him, his eyes unblinking through the holes in his mask, and then looked past him to examine the kitchen for possibilities. Close by, next to the stove, was a stainless steel deep-fat fryer. The vat of amber oil was on a gentle roll. A few feet away, his back turned to the gunman, the art dealer was trying to push himself to the back of the room with everyone else. Trevor walked over and took him in a neck-hold from behind. With his free hand, the gunman grabbed one of Walker's arms and forced it up his back. It took two steps to manoeuvre him so he could be pushed forward over the boiling fat.

Walker screamed, and a silence fell on the kitchen. The cooks and the diners turned to look, and seeing the involvement of the man who had so eagerly bloodied the head waiter just minutes before, they stiffened. From his position at one side of the kitchen Lord Connaston watched the gunman and saw in him an uncommon and disturbing physical self-confidence. He recognized an animal of instincts who knew how to control others. The art dealer was trying to lift his body away from the oil that was only a few inches below his face, but Trevor's hold was tight. Walker twisted and bucked his body. Sweat rolled down his face to the end of his nose, and dropped into the hot oil forcing it to splash back into his face. He screamed again and opened his mouth wide so that a dribble of saliva spooled into the oil, causing it to fizz and spit once more. Trevor didn't flinch.

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1171607687/gallery_29805_4189_5929.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">Nathan watched, and swallowed hard. 'Trevor,' he said quietly. 'Tell them,' the other gunman said, nodding towards the crowd behind him. His voice sounded hoarse from the exertion of keeping the man in place, and his teeth were gritted.

Nathan looked at the crowd. 'Clear away from the back of the room,' he said. Slowly they began to walk towards him. 'Faster. Do exactly what we say. Do it now.'

Soon a narrow channel had opened up through the crowd of diners so he could walk towards the back wall of the kitchen. He turned to Trevor. 'Leave him.'

The gunman kept his hold.

'I said, leave him.'

Reluctantly, Trevor released his grip on Walker's neck and arm, and took a step backwards. The art dealer pushed himself upwards, gasping. He turned and slid down the side of a cabinet, his head in his hands. Through the art dealer's fingers, Nathan could see a crust of white blisters beginning to form on his cheek where the boiling oil had made contact, and once more felt the contents of his stomach rise towards his throat and then settle again. Grey Thomas slipped down on to the floor next to Walker, and wrapped one arm around his slumped shoulders.

Nathan looked about the room. It was full of smells – of hot alcohol and meat cooking over naked flames. When he was a child in his grandparents' house, kitchens smelt only of frying onions or crisping bacon. This was a different experience entirely. It distracted him from the heat which was causing sweat to build up behind his coarse woollen mask. Nathan pulled the gun from his own waistband and felt the unfamiliar weight of the weapon. He waved it around the room and said to himself, 'I'm taking control.'

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1171607687/gallery_29805_4189_10720.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">Now he shouted, in a voice that surprised him: 'Everybody back off. Give us space.' Pleasingly, they recoiled from him. He might not have Trevor's intent or violent commitment, he thought, but with the gun in his hand he could be effective. He sniffed the air again and told himself to focus. He had to treat this as part of the job, not the job gone wrong. He looked towards the doors behind him and, through the small safety-glass windows, saw the strobe of police lights. That way was not an option. The solution therefore lay in the other direction.

'Stay here,' he said, redundantly. And, 'guard the door.' He walked through the crowd, taking in the changing smells as he passed copper saucepans of thick brown liquor. 'Out the way,' he said, and 'coming through' like it was a busy Saturday night at the pub and he was trying to carry a pint. He felt sweat building on his temples and slipping down the back of his neck, and he gave thanks that nobody could see his face. He didn't have to worry about looking anxious, confused or concerned. He was what he was: the man in a mask with the gun. At the back of the kitchen he could see the open door, and around it a tight huddle of diners. As he approached, people drifted away until he was facing the doorway. He stared at what was behind the door, his weapon slack at his side.

'Not what you were hoping to find?'

He turned at the sound of a American woman's voice. He took in the chef's whites and the silk scarf tied around her head.

'When did they do this?' Nathan waved towards the doorway with his pistol. The rest of the room was watching.

'Two weeks ago. Trying to keep the vermin from getting in,' Bobby said. 'They didn't think about any vermin that might be trying to get out.'

'It's a fire hazard.'

'You think so? Like, illegal?'

'Well…'

'Nice, coming from the guy with the rusty gun.'

Involuntarily he ran a hand over his head, as if through his hair. He felt the rough weave of the balaclava beneath his palm. Sweat sucked the material in against his scalp.

'Who are you?'

'Bobby Heller,' she said. 'I'm the chef here, and this is my kitchen.' He kicked the back door open further with his foot so they could all look at the bricked-up doorway.

'Not any more it isn't,' he said. And he shoved the barrel of the gun up and under her chin so she was forced to look down her nose at him.

Six

Up above they heard the diners who had rushed to the back of the dining room when the gunmen arrived leaving the restaurant. Each footfall made a heavy thud that forced those in the kitchen to look upwards and wish they were doing the same. Nathan had a tight grip on Bobby's wrist, and he was walking her back to the kitchen doors. Sheffield stepped forward as they passed, as if to drag him off, but Bobby shook her head. She mouthed 'No' and he sunk back towards the cabinets that lined the kitchen.

When they reached the swing doors Bobby stood quietly next to the gunman, waiting, watching the second man who was still staring out through the partially open door, his narrow back turned to her. Slowly, Trevor turned to look at her. She saw him blink behind his mask. The very tip of his tongue emerged from the mouth hole in the mask to rest against the rough material, a flash of pink against the blackness. Even with the mask she could feel his sudden interest in her. He was staring at her. As Nathan had moved through the kitchen the silence had been replaced by quiet voices of diners trying to reassure each other that they would all be fine, as long as they did nothing stupid. Once more the voices stopped. Everybody turned to watch Trevor.

'You look nice,' he said softly, and he took a few steps forward so he was standing in front of her. Bobby could smell cigarette smoke and involuntarily she leaned backwards to maintain the distance between them.

Nathan laid his hand flat against the other man's chest. 'Trevor—' But Trevor ignored the gesture. It was as if Nathan was not there. 'I bet you smell nice too.' He leaned in towards Bobby and she turned her head away, to expose inadvertently a long stretch of pale neck. She heard him breathe in, and then sigh, so that a warm rush of air brushed against her skin.

'You're hot.'

'Leave her be, Trevor.'

'You've been sweating.' He sounded exhilarated by the discovery. 'I can smell that you've been sweating. I like that.'

He reached out to touch her, his fingers splayed, and she saw the hard bony structure of his hand and the pale grey flesh pulled taut over the knuckles. She took shallow breaths and swallowed, watching the hand, waiting for whatever it was that he was going to do, feeling exposed and vulnerable with her wrist held tight by the other man. 'Pretty skin.'

Quietly, in a voice only just above a whisper, she said, 'Don't touch me.'

And he didn't. 'I want to taste you,' he said. His hand hovered over her neck and, without getting any closer, traced a path from her ear to the hollow of her collarbone just inside the open neck of her chef's jacket. 'I want to find out what you taste like when the sweat runs down into there.'

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1171607687/gallery_29805_4189_5537.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">'We don't have time for this, Trevor,' Nathan said anxiously, turning to watch the door. His voice was forceful but quiet, as if he was dealing with a child he did not wish to startle. For a few seconds more Trevor kept his gaze on Bobby, then slowly turned to the second man. 'That's a pity,' he said, and he laughed so that his stained teeth appeared from behind red, chapped lips. Casually, and without taking his eyes off Bobby, he returned to his position by the swing doors. Bobby could feel Nathan's tight, solid frame next to hers. She was thinking fast now. She was weighing up possibilities. He was six inches taller than she was and she thought he could be as much as sixty pounds heavier, though she believed that would be to her advantage. He wouldn't be expecting anything from such a slight woman. With her free hand, she felt in the waistband of her trousers for the hard curve of horn-handle that she knew was there.

He turned to her. 'Are there any other doors in or out?'

She shook her head. 'No. Just this one.'

'Where does that lead?'

He was pointing to an open doorway in the same wall as the swing doors. He assumed it led back under the dining room towards the front of the restaurant. Bobby peered around him.

'Wine cellar at the back under the pavement. Staff changing area to the right, plus dry stores and walk-ins.'

'Walk-ins?'

'Fridges. It's where we keep the food, which is the stuff we cook in a kitchen.' She was regaining her equilibrium. She knew what she was going to do.

He ignored the challenge. 'No way out through there?'

'I told you. Just these doors here. And the dumb waiter.' She nodded towards the east wall of the room to their immediate left, where a pair of closed cupboard doors were flush into the white tiling. Next to them were two heavy buttons and two dead lights.

'What's one of them?'

'Hand-operated lift. We use it to bring the dirty dishes down.'

He looked at the cupboard doors. 'How big is it?'

'Not big enough for you.'

From the floor they heard a loud groan and everybody turned to look. Mr Andrews was coming round and, in turning his head, had moved the fork enough to reignite the pain. Bobby decided the distraction was the only opportunity she was likely to get and swung herself around so swiftly that she was suddenly behind the gunman. She pulled out the boning knife and, in one clean movement, pressed it to his throat just below his Adam's apple. He let go of her wrist in surprise and she reached up to wrap her other arm tight about his forehead. This is what boning out ten legs of lamb a week gets you, she thought to herself. This was what peeling a hundred pounds of potatoes and shucking a gross of oysters every day had done to her arms. It had given her the strength to take a big man down.

Nathan stood rigid and still. Trevor stared from his position by the door. Mr Andrews lay beside him, blinking.

'Now you're going to let us all go,' Bobby said quietly.

From between gritted teeth, Nathan said, 'Trevor?'

'Right.' He turned, lifted his weapon and shoved the barrel into the mouth of the head waiter. Mr Andrews stared back down the gun. Trevor turned to look at her. Nathan remained still, his head back as if waiting for a dental consultation.

'Be my guest,' she said. 'Blow his brains out. You'll be doing us all a favour.' Her blade stayed in place.

Trevor said, 'Fair enough.' He withdrew the gun from the man's mouth and patted him on the cheek. Mr Andrews gulped. Trevor stood up and took a step towards the crowd. He walked along the line, staring closely at them – a young man in collar, tie and brassbuttoned blazer, the twenty-something woman next to him with her arm looped tightly through his, an elderly man with narrow nose and high cheekbones. He stopped before the small bird-like woman standing next to him who had grey piled hair and a floral dress, and who smelt lightly of lavender. 'Fine,' he said and he put the gun against her right temple.

'What about her?' He turned to her. 'Name?'

'Susan Guthrie,' she said in a whisper.

'What about Suzy?' He pushed the gun harder against her head, and the woman let out a small squeal. She said, 'Please—' Bobby blinked and swallowed. Trevor stared back at her and jerked the weapon once more against the elderly woman's head. 'Shall I?' Reluctantly, Bobby released her grip. She let the knife slip away from the man's throat. Her arms fell to her sides as Nathan shook himself out.

'Thank you, Trevor,' Nathan said, as if his friend had offered him a cup of tea. He took the boning knife from Bobby's hand. He nodded towards the old woman. 'You can stop now.'

Trevor pulled the gun away from her head, as though he was always open to suggestions, and she turned to be comforted by the older man next to her. He closed his eyes and let out a puff of air, his papery cheeks deflating.

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1171607687/gallery_29805_4189_14044.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">Nathan walked across to where the head waiter was lying on the floor and squatted down next to him. There was now a thick, black clot around the fork and running down over his neck to cake his skin. Blood had run into the folds of fat and dried there. Nathan knew what he needed to do, though the thought of it brought a familiar and uneasy lightness to his stomach. He looked into Mr Andrews' eyes and then away from him as he slipped two fingers either side of the fork's tines. With his other hand he pulled on the handle. At first it wouldn't move and the head waiter gave a piglet-like squeal and began to pant. Nathan decided the task had to be done quickly. He pushed down with one hand and at the same time, pulled so that with a crisp sucking noise the fork withdrew. A small amount of fresh blood welled up in the puncture holes and slipped out and over the clot.

Before he stood up Nathan wiped his hands casually on Andrews's clothes then he turned to face the room. He held the bloodied fork upwards, tines to the ceiling. Only a small amount of the metal was clean enough to catch the lights. The rest was smeared with black or brown matter.

Nathan said, 'Look at this.' He presented it slowly to the room, turning in a semi-circle so that everybody could see it. 'And the next time any of you think of trying something like that, remember it. Do I need to say any more?'

Nobody spoke.

He said it again, only louder. 'Do I?' There was a dull murmur of 'No' from around the kitchen.

Nathan dropped the fork on to a work surface. He wiped his hand on his leg and turned again to study the shape of the kitchen. He needed a distraction, something with which to keep the attention of his hostages. On a shelf he saw what he was looking for.

Nathan looked at Bobby. 'Does that work?’ he said, nodding towards a small, portable television. Bobby looked over at the set. 'Yeah. It works.'

'Good.' He looked at his watch. 'This is what we're going to do. We're going to watch a little telly. You—' He pointed to Stevie, who was nearest. ‘Do the honours.' The cook flicked the switch and the black and white picture fizzed into life.

<div align="center">+ + + + +</div>

This is part three of a four-part series. Part one is here, and part two is here.

This extract is taken from The Oyster House Siege by Jay Rayner, published in March by Atlantic Books at £10.99. To order an advance copy at the special price of £9.99 including postage and packing, call 01903 828503 quoting reference JR1.

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I was actually looking forward to my Saturday night assignation with The Oyster House Siege by the time Saturday afternoon arrived. (Pitiful in ways, yes. :biggrin: ) The only problem is that I want to read *this* now, and not the other books that are strewn all over the place boring me. So I ordered it. I need to know what happened to dear Mr. Andrews and I so thoroughly detest Trevor, picturing his beady mad little eyes and his sour breath, after that neck scene, that I need to find out what happens to him.

Though I'm not sure I'll ever be able to look at a fork in the same way again.

Fretfully yours,

Karen

P.S. In re-reading this, I realized there have been *two* neck scenes so far. I meant the one with the girl, in this note.

I wonder if there will be more neck scenes. :huh:

I like necks, myself. So I do hope so.


Edited by Carrot Top (log)

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But actually let me prattle on here, as nobody else is. I can't figure out why that is, unless it is the loftiness of your editorial postition or perhaps the fact that (as someone stated before) "what does this story have to do with *food*? And that has to do with "audience", doesn't it.

The transition of thinking of food as something to eat . . . to food as something metaphorically or ambiguously connected to other things in the world is not a thing willingly done by many, I've noticed. Politics will bring them in to read if connected - whether those politics are large or small, worldly or personal, sometimes history will (but not as often), and the connection of a celebrity is like a beacon of intense light beckoning, to many.

Recipes and pictures, recipes and pictures - the cry is heard.

That's okay, too.

Personally, as a chef who left the *business* (as it is to many chefs, a thing they love but actually a way to make money :smile: ) I am not so interested in recipes and pictures. I am very interested in stories that use food metaphorically, ambiguously - as food is not a science to me, or even mostly something to eat to me. It is something to think about. *Why* does that person like that food - *what* does this other food represent to that group of people - *how* was it in this time or that time when people ate this thing or the other . . .what were the social conventions that went along with a . . . say. . .kulibiac of salmon served in a 1960's American home? And stories tell me that best. Stories with a knowledge behind them, stories that inform and persuade not by the form of "journalism" but by the use of good fiction writing. I am thrilled to read stories of food that are not "recipes and pictures". I do hope that others will feel tolerance for this way of being, though often enough they seem both impatient and intolerant of the idea of food writing that is not "recipes and pictures".

I like the fact that in your story, Mr. Andrews, who based his life on the fork, on honoring the fork, ended up being forked by the fork itself. The instrument of his destruction. Or we'll see, anyway - the fork certainly has been used against him . . . as so often he used it to provide pleasure through service of food to others. As some carry swords to represent valour . . . or as some from Wales hold up the leek, I've heard :wink: Mr. Andrews carried his fork.

My habit is to speak when others are quiet. Unless, of course, a moment of silence has been requested. So, up I speak again, and say "I love these stories".

I do hope that others feel the same.

And yes, I say thank you to Maggie and Dave for creating this space for this sort of writing that includes thoughts of food but is not "recipes and pictures."

.........................

The Moon enters Aries in approximately half an hour. I intend to blame my outburst on that fact. :rolleyes:


Edited by Carrot Top (log)

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I'll join in Karen. It's almost too obvious an observation but one of the pleasures of a site like this, is the opportunity to get instant feeback on a piece of work like the Oyster Hosue Siege. After the better part of two years locked away with this novel I was hoping I might get the chance to talk some of it over, so thank you for providing me with that.

Obviously I'm with you, where food writing as recipes and pictures is concerned. I think you can do a lot more with it. Personally, though, I avoid notions of metaphor. Indeed one of my pet hates is fiction - or even non-fiction - which uses food as a metaphor for sensuality; which softens the edges of the gnarled old peasant because of the lunch she puts on the table, or makes the dark browed silent guy suddenly sexy because he does fabulous things with chocolate. Too much food writing tries to reach for the metaphysical, as an excuse for gluttony.

In my experience from standing in too many kitchens, and hanging out with too many hard core chefs, for many of them - for many of you - food is about control. It is about feeling in charge of the zone and forcing the ingredients to comply with your demands. And that, really, is what lies at the heart of this book. It is about chaos - both of the siege and the men who cause it - and an attempt to enforce order upon it.

You'll have to take my word on this until you receive your copy because so far this site has run only about 6,000 words of a 100,000 word story. In short the major themes are yet to develop. Above all though, it will only work if it functions well as a thriller, regardless of whether it appeals to those with an interest in food. Whether it does so or not will be for readers to decide.

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Indeed one of my pet hates is fiction - or even non-fiction - which uses food as a metaphor for sensuality; which softens the edges of the gnarled old peasant because of the lunch she puts on the table, or makes the dark browed silent guy suddenly sexy because he does fabulous things with chocolate. Too much food writing tries to reach for the metaphysical, as an excuse for gluttony.

Mmm. I'm not sure if those instances are the fault of the metaphoric device or rather, perhaps, the fault of the hungry or lazy writer. The urge to make a point too simply so that it can be clearly understood yet interesting seems to often lurk as words hit paper . . and of course, to write well, really well, is not something gained quickly or easily. And of course that chocolate and sex thing or the equivalent is a quick attention-getter. Readers eyes snap right to, looking for some sort of answer or advice. :biggrin:

In my experience from standing in too many kitchens, and hanging out with too many hard core chefs, for many of them - for many of you - food is about control. It is about feeling in charge of the zone and forcing the ingredients to comply with your demands. And that, really, is what lies at the heart of this book. It is about chaos - both of the siege and the men who cause it - and an attempt to enforce order upon it.

Interesting. I can see that, yes. I was never personally that sort of chef, but I do know many who are. It brings the question to my mind as to whether the female chef has this trait as much as the male chef does . . .not to stereotype, but just to wonder, you know.

The one word you use in the quote above that does not "feel" right to me, is the "forcing" and "enforcing". The kitchen (professional kitchen) to me was a wonderful place to have order, pleasure, a place to have good work done, with operational systems that would support doing good work, excellent work. Of course, the sort of exec chef I was (private dining rooms, Goldman Sachs) has a different sort of required atmosphere to create than the usual fine restaurant chef. No rodeos allowed, rather the opposite.

it will only work if it functions well as a thriller, regardless of whether it appeals to those with an interest in food

As the installments continue, I can see this happening more and more clearly, and that is really what does entice me to want to read more. Personally I lean towards mysteries more than thrillers (Josephine Tey, Dorothy Sayers, Martha Grimes, Michael Innes, P.D. James, and lately a funny writer who turns regular people into vampires who are human-like and appealing :laugh: with a female protagonist who keeps on having rather interesting sexual involvements with all these guys who are around her :laugh::laugh: . . .but no food in these books - Charlaine Harris). Most "thrillers" I've tried do not mesh with my own sensibilities.

So I look forward to seeing what's going on here, with the book.

And I do hope that someone else besides me decides to chime in here, so my reputation as chatterbox will not stand sole and alone. :smile::wink:

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I'll join in Karen. It's almost too obvious an observation but one of the pleasures of a site like this, is the opportunity to get instant feeback on a piece of work like the Oyster Hosue Siege. After the better part of two years locked away with this novel I was hoping I might get the chance to talk some of it over, so thank you for providing me with that.

I love stories, and I love discussion boards, and I love food stories and food discussion boards, and I'd probably love New York in June, how about you, but I have a hard time adjusting my attention span to read lengthy works on my computer.

E-books, which appear to have so much promise, seem to be stuck in the starting blocks, (metaphorically speaking :wink: ), possibly for the same reason?

I've written several serialized stories on another forum, with mixed results, so I can understand your being somewhat frustrated.

I also wonder if maybe most eGullet readers don't feel comfortable offering what amounts to literary criticism, even though they're hardly bashful about blasting Food TV personalities, lousy restaurant service, unhealthy and poor quality foods, etc. :hmmm:

Obviously I'm with you, where food writing as recipes and pictures is concerned. I think you can do a lot more with it. Personally, though, I avoid notions of metaphor. Indeed one of my pet hates is fiction - or even non-fiction - which uses food as a metaphor for sensuality; which softens the edges of the gnarled old peasant because of the lunch she puts on the table, or makes the dark browed silent guy suddenly sexy because he does fabulous things with chocolate. Too much food writing tries to reach for the metaphysical, as an excuse for gluttony.

I think representing sensuality through food is as legitimate a literary device as expressing sensuality through descriptions of appearance and action, or even by use of dialogue. Expression is expression, in my book.

Of course, I love metaphor! :wink:

SB (appreciates the story, and will make an effort to offer constructive opinions :smile: )

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Totally with you on the problems of reading extended text on screen. The e-book has had so many false dawns and yet morning has never come. Why? Because the old-fashioned book - paper, covers, binding - is an extraordinarily efficient tool for the job it is called upon to do.

I think representing sensuality through food is as legitimate a literary device as expressing sensuality through descriptions of appearance and action, or even by use of dialogue.  Expression is expression, in my book.

You are absolutely right, of course. It is valid. What troubles me is that it seems to have become the default; that if food is deployed in the text it has to be used in that way. And the problem is that the more often it is used in this way, by a growing number of writers, the less likely it is that it will be succesful. In short maybe my concern is not with the use of food as a metaphor for sensuality per se but that there are a lot of crappy writers out there using food as a metaphor for sensuality. (slip inside these parentheses for a moment: I am aware that, in making bald and critical statements like this, I leave myself open for the accusation that I'm not too hot at the whole business myself. I regard that as, literally, an occupational hazard.)

Anyway, let's open this up a little. Food in fiction: would anybody like to nominate favourite scenes, passages or whole books? What works for you?

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Anyway, let's open this up a little. Food in fiction: would anybody like to nominate favourite scenes, passages or whole books? What works for you?

In the company of a crime writer would it be churlish to nominate Chandler's '...as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake'.

I know it's de trop but it certainly sticks in the mind.

I'll also nominate Len Deighton for use of food in the Harry Palmer series. Sometimes there doesn't seem to be too much space in crime fiction for anything more than broad stroke, cartoon character development but, though Palmer himself seems to use food solely as a seduction tool, Deighton uses his interest in food to counterbalance his anomie and brutality. For me, this was a stroke of brilliance.

Deighton was a cook though, and grew up in restaurants. His bonkers series of cartoon strip cookbooks are still some of my favourites today.


Edited by Tim Hayward (log)

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Anyway, let's open this up a little. Food in fiction: would anybody like to nominate favourite scenes, passages or whole books? What works for you?

In the company of a crime writer would it be churlish to nominate Chandler's '...as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake'.

I know it's de trop but it certainly sticks in the mind.

I'll also nominate Len Deighton for use of food in the Harry Palmer series. Sometimes there doesn't seem to be too much space in crime fiction for anything more than broad stroke, cartoon character development but, though Palmer himself seems to use food solely as a seduction tool, Deighton uses his interest in food to counterbalance his anomie and brutality. For me, this was a stroke of brilliance.

Deighton was a cook though, and grew up in restaurants. His bonkers series of cartoon strip cookbooks are still some of my favourites today.

“When from a long distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised for a long time, like souls, ready to remind us...”

Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

on a different level, but perhaps no less profound, I urge you all to try Haruki Murakami's books (assuming you haven't already ).....I promise you will never have read anything like them, and an integral part of his amazing storytelling involves the cooking and eating of simple food. both Japanese and Western. (I started with The Wind Up Bird Chronicle)

Hemingway describes the absolute essence of eating oysters somewhere, trying to remember??

edited to add

aha, got it...

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”

A Moveable Feast

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“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”

A Moveable Feast

...And there, on the half shell, is an object lesson in the importance of context in writing (or 'foodwriting' if such a thing can be said to exist - discuss. :smile: )

I yield to no man in my admiration for the Big Guy in all his throbbing manly glory. In the context of a Hemingway reminiscence this might be a surgical little knot of condensed, expressive prose.

In the context of even the most debased, slack, weakminded food hack, phoning in copy, past deadline with a hangover, this would never wash.

I'm struggling to find a single image, simile or adjective in that piece that's fresh. In fact every single one is beyond tired. Pray God there's someone in the literature department of a Texas university with the time, funds, computer power and inclination to go through the entire canon of Western literature and prove that Ernest Hemingway was the first writer ever to use the taste of the sea, faint metallic taste and the succulent texture in a a piece about oysters .... because everybody since certainly has.

Christ, he could write scripts for Gary Rhodes.

:biggrin:

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“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”

A Moveable Feast

...And there, on the half shell, is an object lesson in the importance of context in writing (or 'foodwriting' if such a thing can be said to exist - discuss. :smile: )

I yield to no man in my admiration for the Big Guy in all his throbbing manly glory. In the context of a Hemingway reminiscence this might be a surgical little knot of condensed, expressive prose.

In the context of even the most debased, slack, weakminded food hack, phoning in copy, past deadline with a hangover, this would never wash.

I'm struggling to find a single image, simile or adjective in that piece that's fresh. In fact every single one is beyond tired. Pray God there's someone in the literature department of a Texas university with the time, funds, computer power and inclination to go through the entire canon of Western literature and prove that Ernest Hemingway was the first writer ever to use the taste of the sea, faint metallic taste and the succulent texture in a a piece about oysters .... because everybody since certainly has.

Christ, he could write scripts for Gary Rhodes.

:biggrin:

aaah, that's why he fell out with Martha Gellhorn :biggrin:

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I'm reminded of a quote from Nora Ephron: "Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like "light as a feather" make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

:wink:

...And there, on the half shell, is an object lesson in the importance of context in writing (or 'foodwriting' if such a thing can be said to exist - discuss.  :smile: )

I yield to no man in my admiration for the Big Guy in all his throbbing manly glory. In the context of a Hemingway reminiscence this might be a surgical little knot of condensed, expressive prose.

This image you present of Hemingway "in all his throbbing manly glory". ( :laugh: ) Um . . .I'm trying to picture an alternate universe with Hemingway as a "foodwriter".

I can't quite picture yet whether the image evokes comedy or tragedy.

But it sure would be interesting. :smile:

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E-books, which appear to have so much promise, seem to be stuck in the starting blocks, (metaphorically speaking :wink: ), possibly for the same reason?

You're right - I did have trouble focusing on reading the story initially just because of the online form. Strangely enough, what helped were the sidebars of text which seemed to help me grab onto where I was. ( :wacko: )

Came across something interesting today on the topic of digital writing, an online journal that is seeking to address the limitations of the hardness of the computer in terms of reading, by using its strengths to stretch into a new conceptual genre of sorts.

I'd rather have a book, but who knows what the next generation of computer-savvy children will prefer?

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Anyway, let's open this up a little. Food in fiction: would anybody like to nominate favourite scenes, passages or whole books? What works for you?

Interesting question to focus on, for I realized that for myself it is not the gorgeosity of prose that draws me in to a book. If bits of stunning beauty appear that are built of words within a story, it always seems to me more like a gift than an expectation or even a hope.

There are three things that draw me in as a reader. The author's voice (I must *like* the person I perceive to be speaking through the book or story, their perceived way of thinking of things must appeal to me); the structure of the story (how it feels to me to be "built" - texturally, design-wise almost, and there are many varieties of this sensation . . which can almost be felt as a musical thing); and the characterizations. I really want to know the people that are in the story, to feel that I know them well though I don't know them at all of course.

Laura Esquivel's "Like Water for Chocolate" has these aspects of enjoyment for me, to a great degree. The "magical realism" of the emotions of the protagonist actually entering the foods she prepares which then will be eaten and re-lived, but in their own ways, by those that dine upon the food . . .

Some of M.F.K. Fisher, too. I can not but think of her as a fiction writer though that's not what she's called. The stories. The stories remain in memory, strong and vibrant as the day they were read, with food as anchor to it all.

To me there are not many things in the world as valuable as a good "story". A "story" in the sense of the word that holds fables, tall tales and folkloric tales within the word. Something that speaks of the world and how it is, that speaks of classic truths and the human condition, but not directly. Something painted or hummed, with a knowing smile under it all. Something that brings the unanswerable yet always ponderable questions to mind, rather than shooting out a proposed answer, and that entertains vividly while doing so.

That's what works for me.

....................................

( :laugh: ) Sorry. Got a little excited there.


Edited by Carrot Top (log)

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I'm reminded of a quote from Nora Ephron: "Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like "light as a feather" make their way into your sentences and then where are you?" :wink:

Then again, if I were eating a waffle, and the expression "light as a feather" entered my mind unbidden, and I relayed that information to you in writing, it's a legitimate piece of information, trite though it may be.

In this instance, perhaps the triteness of this particular waffle-eating experience is exactly what I meant to impart?

SB (an exception to a good rule, perhaps, but it's kind of like .... :wink:

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Then again, if I were eating a waffle, and the expression "light as a feather" entered my mind unbidden, and I relayed that information to you in writing, it's a legitimate piece of information, trite though it may be.

I guess we could have a conversation about what you considered a "legitimate piece of information" to be, as opposed to what I consider a "legitimate piece of information" to be. Focal point: the word "legitimate". :rolleyes:

But speaking of Serbs and Montenegro and legitimacy which sounds like "legit" which reminds me of the law and detective/mystery novels, naturally I am reminded of Nero Wolfe, a man as interested in food as he is in solving the mysteries placed before him by desperate clients. Maybe even moreso. :smile: Books chock-full of food.

There's even a club that meets (in NY, home of NW) and eats. Shad dinner coming up in April, right after a conference at the Greenbrier. :biggrin:

The Wolfe Pack

The Manhattan Pow Wow featuring the favorite Spring-time food of the Werowance (Archie’s name for Mr. Wolfe in Too Many Cooks)  ? Shad.  As Wolfe fans may know, Shad is indigenous to the Hudson River.

We will meet at the Penn Station MacDonad's, near the IRT Broadway subway entrance, at 11:00 a.m. Some members of The Pack will be suitably attired in Wolfean shirts, etc. to facilitate the rendezvous for this rain or Shine Pow Wow with Shad Tasting.

Friday:

$95 per person for the American Banquet -- the most famous meal in the mystery novel genre is the American Dinner at the Kanawha Spa in Rex Stout's Too Many Cooks. The Friday dinner from The Cookbook will feature a talk by Kevin Hanson, Greenbrier County Prosecuting Attorney. He succeeded Barry Tolman, of course.

It's due to reading Nero Wolfe books that I could speak with some pretense of authority on Fine French Food at the age of twelve, though the most exotic meal I'd ever had to date then was overcooked lamb chops and frozen green peas. :biggrin:

(Thank you, Rex Stout! :smile: )

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Thinking of Nero Wolfe - and characters who represent the "gourmand" in literature.

Is there any other character in fictional literature who represents the gourmand as clearly and intently as Wolfe?

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Thinking of Nero Wolfe - and characters who represent the "gourmand" in literature.

Is there any other character in fictional literature who represents the gourmand as clearly and intently as Wolfe?

Donna Leon's books set in Italy are full of amazing descriptions of the food consumed by her main character, the policeman Brunetti

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Let's not forget Maigret, Simenon's great detective, whether eating at a late night bistro with Janvier and Lucas, or going home for lunch to Madame Maigret's pot au feu. I own a cookbook of Madame Maigret's recipes: plain, French, fabulous.

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