Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chez Moi

Last week I finished the book Chez Moi by French author Agnes Desarthe. It's a bit like foreign films: slow, relaxed pace, portraying people as they are: both good and bad, asking us not to judge but to accept their humanity. About a woman with a "past" who opens up a small restaurant in France, this is the kind of book you enjoy if you know anything about cooking and the love, mystery that goes into making dishes for others to eat.

There are two parts of the books that spoke to me. The main character, Myriam, recounts the days after her act of sin, when she wandered town with her suitcase. As she recalls "I was petrified with shame for my very existence and for doing what I had done. I was unrecognizable, even to myself. There was nowhere I could put myself, nowhere to sleep. I felt like a hunted animal." (pp 83-84). Later, on page 239-240 she talks about how humans are on the fringes of the food chain, and how the big predators (the ones who do not get eaten) should hold a council together. There would be lions, crocodiles, killer whales, tigers, bears. Humans would be the honorary member and the "herbivorous pachyderm", Professor Elephant, would be the mediator.

Which, now as I write, helps me understand a bit more what I consider the soul of the book. Pages 200-201 where Myriam feels as if her friends are creating a new world for her and she is afraid. She refers to Alice in Wonderland, noting that Alice had a bottle that said DRINK Me and a cake that read EAT ME. Alice drinks and she's stretched like a sapling. "Too small, too big, my life keeps changing proportions and I'm never the right size for what I'm trying to do." She wishes she could live her life not feeling too exposed or too cramped. Like Alice, Myriam feels she is never the right size.

Originally, Chez Moi was titled "Eat Me" which the American publishes felt too vulgar, but it fits the feelings Myriam experiences.

This is not a book I would recommend to everyone. It starts off fast, the mystery of her sin takes time to establish and then quickly glanced at, the characters a bit too gloomy and the ending comes quick and resolves everything right away. But there is also mystery and space to fill in with the reader's imagination. And there is Myriam's love for cooking and for her little restaurant that lives off of the page.

If you like to cook, if you like tails of redemption and forgiveness, then this is a good, but not great, read.

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