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Dark Puss

Style over substance, well over plot anyway, and wicked fun. I laughed out loud a couple of times. I felt towards the end that perhaps the pudding had a few too many eggs in it and for my taste it could have been slightly shortened to advantage. Rather too close to some academics I know for comfort, though so far I have not refused any mushroom omelettes! I liked the variety of the superiority claimed in all fields (including my own of physics) by Tarquin even when he was wrong. Amazed to discover that he covered the performance art "Great Wall of China" event which by extraordinary coincidence I had read about in a book by a colleague on the female artist Marina Abramovic. I was very familiar with most of the culinary references and thought Tarquin's references to sex and gastronomy most appropriate.

Dark Puss doesn't do comfort food nor comfort reading and this book was right up his street.

Barbara MacLeod

This is one weird book! To start with I really did not like it. I think the big problem with it is getting used to the style. I ended up enjoying it, but it is just as the blurb said ""wholly mad". Somewhere in the book he uses the phrase "rhetorical kookiness". That would be a good description of this book.

Using the pronoun 'one' as a subject makes it very stilted. To me it gave it a kind of falseness, a hollowness e.g. "In this sense a winter meal is paradigmatic of the talismanic function of the menu one mentioned in one's Preface...". Maybe this would sound better in conversation (where the pompous voice would establish the tone); written down is another matter! Probably it would make a good audio-book.

I found Tarquin's views on art and artists odd: "... the most important part of any artist's oeuvre is the work he knows it is no longer possible to attempt." "An artist should be assessed by what he doesn't do". Yes, composers and musicians know that the silences are important, painters know that spaces left unpainted are important but the silences/emptinesses are part of something bigger which exists. (I suppose, Tarquin would argue that the best conversation is where nothing is said!)

It's worth persevering! I quite enjoyed the gallimaufry-ness of it. "... the Inca's basic unit of time was predicated on how long it took to cook a potato". Really?! And I liked his description about the rules of proportion (cooking, architecture, sculpture, pottery and dress-making) which are seen in mixing a dry martini: main ingredient, sub-ordinant ingredient and lastly, grace-note.

Quite a clever book if a bit meandering! (P.S. I couldn't make head nor tail of the ending!)

Julie Fredericksen

Here's my review on my book blog:

I can't believe I didn't like this book when I read it before. Honestly, I must have been thinking about a different book. Like Barbara, I didn't care for it when I started it, but in the end it was, as Dark Puss says, "Wicked fun"!

Dark Puss

Back again to add that a weakness of the book, for me, was that I found the sociopathic nature of Tarquin a little too obvious for my taste. Only a minor criticism and one that in no way spoilt my overall enjoyment of the book. I only mention it after reading Julie Fredericksen's interesting review where, if I am interpreting correctly, this aspect was not so clearly signalled.


The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, it’s said, and apparently women are susceptible too. After some initial reservations about the deliberately overblown style, I had succumbed, by page 42, to Tarquin’s description of goat’s cheese salad. After that, I simply gave myself up to - well, not pleasure, exactly, Tarquin is too loathsome for that, but amusement certainly. I do agree with Dark Puss that he is a little too obviously a sociopath, so that I'm not entirely convinced by the tension created by someone apparently portraying himself so successfully as one of nature's innocent victims while being so authoritatively arrogant, but I quashed my scepticism.

Generally I don't like books which aim to get into the mind of a psychopath* - I feel tainted by them - but this novel is an elaborate game, and I enjoyed it as such. It reminded me somewhat of Malcolm Bradbury's Mensonge, which is a similar kind of literary endeavour, and also funny.

* I know this is not the word of choice, sociopath being preferred these days, but under the rather malign influence of Tarquin "I use the term here merely as an example of what Fowler sarcastically calls 'elegant variation'."

Julie Fredericksen

DP -

Yesterday, curious as to what others thought of the book, I read about a dozen reviews on It looks like Tarquin's sociopathic nature was well telegraphed and the signals were received quite early on by most readers (excepting me).

Julie Fredericksen

I used the term sociopath in my review but got to wondering what is the difference? According to the website listed below, there isn't a great deal of difference between the two, but there are some distinguishing characteristics.

By this definition, our Tarquin would be a definite psychopath.

Mr Cornflower

A highly entertaining stylistic exercise which must have been great fun to write, with some classic one-liners ("C'est pour tuer le hamster de mon frere") and non-stop sly allusions, some of which I spotted but no doubt many others passed me by. A treat!

Mr Cornflower

PS I also enjoyed Lanchester's much more recent work on the financial crisis ("Whoops! Why everyone owes everyone and no-one can pay")) As it happens money is my job and I took a great deal of pleasure in reading Lanchester's bravura examination of what people like me do for a living, though I couldn't help thinking of Pope's line about how every profession has its quirks which "amaze the unlearn'd/And make the learned smile..."


An unusual book.! I enjoyed it mainly at the beginning because it was such a different style of writing that I enjoyed the novelty, but towards the end of the book I felt both character and prose tiresome. However I did find parts of the book funny. Like Barbara, I'm not sure I could understand the end. Am I right in thinking that John Lanchester was giving a talk in Glasgow about a month ago? I would have liked to have gone along.

Susie Vereker

Learned comments. Will check out Wise Geek website in future, and maybe read this book one day. Sorry, haven't had time to blog-visit lately but hope to take part in the next book group choice.


I will keep this short because on the whole I loathed this book. It wasn't just the unpleasant character, he was meant to get under my skin of course. But I found the style difficult too, lots of lists and repetition and the plotting was so obvious from very early on that there wasn't much else to keep me going - I was surprised that my love of food wasn't enough.
For bleak, food-related comedy I preferred Cooking with Fernet Branca and for another title where Amanita mushrooms are cited try We Have Always Lived In the Castle.
I've always felt the point of book group is to make me read books I wouldn't otherwise have chosen and sometimes this has happy consequences and sometimes not. This book didn't hit the spot for me, but I'm not sorry I read it.


I enjoyed this book very much, it was creepy, funny and dark. It did make me laugh and I liked the writing style. The demise of all that were close to Tarquin did get a bit tedious. Oddly enough Tarquin the man of disguises and his way of expounding on food and events reminded me of a few people I had the misfortune to know. The book prompted me to read Family Romance giving me a better understanding of the author. It too was an excellent book and I plan to read Mr. Phillips and Fragrant Harbour. Thank you for suggesting this book.


I found it a clever book, with an unusual plot and I'm glad to have read it. The interest for me must have been solving the mysteries surrounding Tarquin (the false beard etc), because once I had grasped his character, I became bored rapidly. The incessant display of Tarquin's knowledge & breadth of his reading seemed to grate like chalk on a blackboard & I resorted to speed reading in the end.

Simon T

I'm late to the party, and have now read this - I hated it to begin with, until I realised that we weren't *supposed* to agree with or like Tarquin! Then I was rather seduced by it... but not entirely sure. Food/drink snobbery always seems to me the most pointless and annoying of all snobberies, and with Lanchester being a restaurant critic and all, I rather felt he was sending up something he half agreed with...

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