Pleasures of the Flesh
by Laurence Haloche
Translated from French by Rory Mulholland
Plot; Malvina Raynal is only a young child when she witnesses the execution of her parents. Their crime; the murder of the guests staying at their inn and the subsequent feeding on their flesh. It is this past that Malvina tries to escape, ever fighting the internal battle of good and evil.
Her Mother's parting gift, a Turkish book on alchemy, is all Malvina has to remember her parents by as she spends her formative years at an orphanage run by nuns, where Malvina learns the art of cuisine from the orphanage cook, experiencing all the flavours that nature and its spices has to offer. It is this education that awakens Malvina's lust for taste leading her on a journey to Paris and the apothecary from whom her mother had been gifted the book.
Jean-Baptiste Dandora de Ghalia, the apothecary, is the most unsavory of characters and as Malvina becomes his apprentice she is welcomed into a libertarian world of depravity where she is appointed the unwholesome task of taking human flesh and creating "health pastilles" to cure all ailments. Pastilles that have been made from the most repugnant of ingredients but must taste delicious as they heal the senses.
It is within this world that Malvina meets Matthieu, the apothecary's son, who is an expert anatomist and the love for whom Malvina has been waiting. But it is this love that is the end for Malvina as the struggle between good and evil reaches its climax.
My Thoughts; In the back of all the books available at my local library is a slip where you, as the reader, can leave your mark so others know who has read before them. I should have known after having seen this slip that this book was going to be a disturbing adventure, as some unlucky member of Haloche's audience had, ever so boldly, written "Yuck!"
This book is the ultimate example of the "don't judge a book by its cover' rule. I was lead in by the beautiful painting on the front cover and, because of the title, I was expecting this book to be a romantic adventure, maybe that of a recluse artist or a haughty Parisian aristocrat, but what I got was instead a story that caused my stomach to turn.
The first half of the book, with the exception of the execution, was enjoyable. I couldn't help but be stimulated by the descriptions of succulent and sumptuous French provincial cuisine but, as raw meat left overnight on a table, the book rotted and ruined. This book left me physically ill and while I must admit it is an inventive tale, it is one that I would sooner put at the back of the bookshelf than read again. I do not feel that I needed to be confronted with the image of a woman carving her own flesh to feed to her lover.
In terms of recommendation, I would only recommend this book to those with a strong stomach or those who appreciated Perfume, as this novel is reminiscent of the Patrick Suskind classic.