Monday, November 12, 2018

Food in Fiction

How important is it in a book to know what the characters eat? Does it shed a light on their characters? Or do they even eat at all?

I was thinking about this because I couldn't enjoy a book I read recently which had been shaping up to be rather a good thriller because I was so distracted by the characters, including a couple of children, all going for refuge to this remote shack where they stayed for several weeks without any indication of what they lived on or how they got it. If these children were anything like mine, the dialogue would have been totally dominated by wails of, 'I'm starving!' I got so obsessed about it that I completely lost interest in the dramatic denouement.

Perhaps it's just me who thinks like that. I love cooking and I love entertaining. I read cookbooks for pleasure and it's so important in my life that it has even taken over my anxiety dream. When I was worried, my standard dream used to be about trying to get to an exam when I didn't even know where it was or what I would be examined on. Now, it's about having people coming to visit when I've no food in the house and I can't find the supermarket.

I've always loved the descriptions of food in children's books, whether Ratty and Mole's picnic of 'cold tonguecoldhamcold beefpickledgherkinsaladFrenchrollscress sandwichespottedmeatgingerbeer lemonadesoda water' or the Christmas hamper from home with Debbie's jumbles in 'What Katie Did at School.' One of my favourite cookery books is the delightful The Little Library Cookbook by Kate Young which is a treasure trove of literary recipes.

Joanne Harris's Chocolat was such a clever book, as luscious as chocolate itself, a revelation of the character of the heroine as well. Marcel Proust's madeleine is of course the famous example, with the thin taste of the lime-flower tea and the delicate sponge reflecting his own refined sensibility.

I hadn't really thought about it before in my own books, but my DI Marjory Fleming – no cook herself – has a robust enjoyment of the hearty Polish country dishes her housekeeper makes as well as the bakes her mother sends along in The Tin, an important feature of Fleming family life. My new detective, DI Kelso Strang, is thirty years younger and as a New Man has no problem in dishing up an elegant sea bass. And yes, I suppose that does indeed spell out his more austere character compared to hers.

So, as I work out my plots should I, in future, work out the recipes to go with them?


Susan D said...

Recipes would be welcome (especially from The Tin) but people might assume you're slipping into cosy country. After all, you already have animals. :^))

But I know what you mean. Occasionally, when reading, I find myself looking up from the page and thinking, but what about a bathroom break? Uh, when did they sleep?

Aline Templeton said...

Recipes in the book definitely a step too far, Susan - though on personal application...!

Donna S said...

Louise Penny's books with Inspector Gamache and all the gang in his fictional Three Pines, are always eating and the descriptions make you drool!!! Also Nero Wolfe in his day had lots of food in his books.