Thursday, October 1, 2009

Recent Reading - The Debt to Pleasure

I only recently discovered this 2007 piece from New York Magazine which asked critics and writers to name a favorite underrated book from the previous ten years. I dumped several of them into my Amazon Wish List and found that, as might be expected of recent-but-not-too-recent books that fall into the "underrated" category, many of them could be had for not much more than the cost of shipping.

I finished John Lanchester's The Debt to Pleasure a few days ago ($0.01 + shipping for a "like new" hard cover copy) and was glad to concur with Ron Rosenbaum's endorsement in the NYMag piece:

"Pure wicked literary pleasure. Well received when published, but not nearly as well read as deserved. Ghostly progenitor: Nabokov’s Pale Fire."

While Pale Fire is certainly an apt reference point, there are echoes in the novel of lots of other writers and works, whether intentional on Lanchester's part or not. So many, in fact, that instead of writing a review, I'm going to try to convey a sense of what the book is like by listing all the possible models, influences, and related works that I could think of.

Although it might be appropriate to the subject matter, presenting this list in the form of a "recipe for The Debt to Pleasure" would have been taking my already shaky premise deep into the realm of the contrived. So, the list:

Pale Fire (hidden plot peeking out through the holes in the unreliable narrator's elaborately constructed facade)
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (investigating the life of a dead, more successful brother)
Despair (another delusional, unreliable narrator up to no good)
The Physiology of Taste (wide-ranging, philosophical musings on gastronomy - with recipes!)
The "Ripliad" (refined expat living well in France and occasionally doing very bad things)
On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts (the title says it all)
The Rape of Lucrece (referenced toward the end; coveting thy neighbor's wife)
Peter Mayle's Provence books (British expat in Provence)
John Wilmot's "The Imperfect Enjoyment" (check out line 24)

I feel like I'm missing something, maybe something on art theory or the art world, but I hope this list might at least prove intriguing enough to get you to read the book.

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