If there’s not already a PhD thesis on record somewhere about the bourgeois fetishization of gourmet food in contemporary Canadian fiction, there ought to be. It’s long been a pet peeve of some of us here at the Quill office (OK, one of us here at the Quill office) that CanLit characters eat ridiculously well, forever ingesting “roasted pheasant with herb and fennel, and for dessert, wild cherries that stained our fingers a deep, dark red” or some such repast. God forbid that any self-respecting protagonist be caught eating takeout hamburgers wrapped in greasy white paper, though surely that would offer a chance to show off an author’s descriptive powers just as well as fancier fare.
Anyway, author Alberto Manguel weighs in on food and fiction in a new Geist column about the joys of sampling the food we encounter in our favourite stories. “Perhaps it is difficult to undertake the same travels as Lemuel Gulliver or to share Madame Bovary’s ill-fated love or to be present at one of Jay Gatsby’s exquisite parties,” he writes. “But there is no reason not to taste Mrs. Cratchit’s Christmas pudding ‘like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy’ or to savour the cucumber sandwiches Algernon devours in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.”
In doing so, Manguel argues, we deepen our sense of connection to the characters and the stories. And it’s a pleasure to see that his examples include the modest (cucumber sandwiches) as well as the grand.
Alberto Manguel’s Geist column on food