FOODIE FICTION: Pick of the week Confessions of a Flesh Eater by David Madsen (Dedalus)

INDEPENDENT CHOICE

A crop of new novels centred on the theme of food reflect the way that the British have taken to gastronomy in recent years. Stylistically, they vary from wacky comedy to historical pastiche. Laurie Graham's delectably titled Perfect Meringues (Black Swan, pounds 6.99) concerns the fortunes of TV cook Lizzie. As a 40-something minor celebrity, she should have it all. Instead, she tails men in supermarkets and makes dodgy assignations with unpromising types called Bernard. She is hounded by her loquacious mother, and the rambling rhythms of the old woman's thought patterns are captured beautifully: "They said that your dad shouldn't keep syringing his ears, but they didn't have to live with him." Lizzie also has to cope with a sulky teenage daughter, "jacking off gormless Gavin while they're supposed to be revising". In the meantime, she rues the fact that Midlands fans are not yet ready for lumpfish caviar.

A typical modern woman, she has a gay man - astrologer Louie - for her best friend. He is the recipient of the most tender culinary gifts: "I made a mille-feuille of plums and pears, warmed it through in his oven, dusted it with icing sugar and served it with very cold Jersey cream."

Laurie Graham's choppy narrative has the feel of a hastily scrawled diary, complete with Must-Do lists - "Clear leaves out of gutter. Rabbit? Be a better mixer. Move settee". Her comic touch is sure and psychologically accurate. In the dreaded Tonya, a dating-agency doyenne, Graham has created a truly memorable character. And her ear for media-speak is clear: "keep it simple, keep it nice, keep it badminton and Andrew Lloyd Webber". Her flippant wit at the expense of contemporary foibles is cutting, while retaining a breezy good nature. If Victoria Wood wrote a novel, it might read something like this.

Fermentation by Angeline Jacob (Bloomsbury, pounds 5.99) is a quite different confection - higher-toned, a kind of gastro-porn, very French in flavour. The heroine becomes pregnant and develops insatiable cravings for cheese. Chapter headings take the names of cheeses, with lush descriptions of each. This is a slightly precious, but reasonable pretext for the heroine's dive into the realm of the senses, where erotic dreams and reality intermingle.

How you take the sex scenes will depend on how you feel about sub-dom fantasies with lashings of cuts and burns. But these are delicately enumerated, shielded in existential angst, showing the sense-of-humour bypass endemic to most effective pornography.

A highly poetic narrator, Angeline Jacob (a pseudonym) is good at extended metaphors that meld the cheeses with descriptions of the woman's pregnant body. Pregnancy, sensuality and sex are usually seen - antiseptically - as completely separate entities. The way the author has managed to blend all three is an impressive achievement.

David Madsen's Confessions of a Flesh Eater (Dedalus, pounds 7.99) concerns cannibalism and parricide. It might be said to be the most in-your-face selection here, and is also the intellectual heavyweight. Orlando Crispe, a chef convinced of his own genius, writes his memoirs from jail, accused of the murder of Arturo Trogville - ace-rival and deadly restaurant critic.

Set in the present, the tale has all the grim foreboding of a genuine Gothic work. Its tone and emphasis owe much to James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, except that the touch is lighter. Confessions also helpfully includes actual recipes. Madsen has a thirst for clever-clever cross referencing, and there are enough operatic and literary names dropped to keep swots happy for hours. The knowing asides to "Herr Doktor Jung" and "retrojective significance" get tiresome, yet once David Madsen (another pseudonym) gets into his stride, his descriptive skills flourish.

Fans of body horror will find more visceral lusciousness here than in most synthetic US nasties. One of Crispe's talents is the ability to call up synaesthesia: the mixture of sense impressions. I liked the comparison of beef to brass in music and to "the sexual potency of young men before it had been squandered".

Orlando Crispe's gusto for copulating with carcasses retrieved from his restaurant's cold store, then serving them, is only rivalled by his heartfelt loathing for female flesh itself. Women are more fondly regarded by the chef as marinades for his masterpieces.

Fermentation, by the way, is the only one of this batch that left me with a real appetite for food. Still, these sybaritic-tending novels are more colourful and lively on the palate than the bald realism that has become a staple in fiction recently. Salut to all that, and bon appetit.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future