Lunch with Elizabeth David: A Novel

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9780786707072: Lunch with Elizabeth David: A Novel
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In the south of France in 1940, writer Norman Douglas meets a young Englishwoman with a taste for food, and introduces her to Mediterranean cuisine--which will be the subject of her own best-selling books--his literary and artistic friends, and his youngprotege Eric Walton

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Review:

A delightfully inventive ragout of fiction and historical fact, Roger Williams's first novel revolves around a pair of 20th-century icons. There is Norman Douglas, the erudite charmer, gourmet, scoffer, quaffer, and high-spirited pederast, best known as the author of South Wind. And there is Elizabeth David, who transformed Britain's humdrum eating habits in 1950 with the publication of Mediterranean Food. A homage to both of these glorious hedonists, Lunch with Elizabeth David comes in two parts, divided roughly along his-and-hers lines.

The first section details the unsentimental education--classical, culinary, sexual--of one Eric Wolton, a working-class Londoner celebrating his 13th birthday in Naples in 1911. This fictional figure is promptly "ravished by Norman Douglas the length and breadth of Calabria." Man and boy take their pleasures lightly indeed as they voyage across Italy's boot (which Douglas went on to celebrate in Old Calabria). And in later years, Eric, now resigned to a dull policeman's existence, recalls that summer as "the best time in his life." In 1951, however, he is abruptly summoned to the island of Capri, where Douglas and his fashionable entourage--including Harold Acton, Graham Greene, and Gracie Fields--are joining Elizabeth David for a farewell lunch.

In the novel's second part, Williams veers more decisively in the direction of fiction. The scenario goes like this: In the late winter of 1946, Cherry Ingram's mother had waited upon Elizabeth David in a hotel in Ross-on-Wye. (In the novel she is alone; in reality, she was there with a lover, and famously described the food as "produced with a kind of bleak triumph which amounted almost to a hatred of humanity and humanity's needs.") Cut to the late 1980s, which find Cherry delivering a whitefish to a "Mrs. David"--bibulous, overbearing, and suspicious of the finny creature's provenance. This chance encounter leads Cherry into her own past, which turns out to dovetail not only with David's but with that of Norman Douglas and his young paramour.

Williams's novel wonderfully evokes the glories of the Mediterranean, not to mention its multiple pleasures. It is perhaps less successful at splicing Eric and Cherry into the historical canvas: the drama of their lives inevitably pales beside Douglas's high-cholesterol existence, or David's. That said, the good parts are truly delicious and well worth sampling. --Ruthie Petrie

About the Author:

Although Roger Williams' father discouraged him from becoming a mariner, he has a great love for the Mediterranean and has travelled widely there. He has had a journalistic career in magazines from the age of seventeen, writing travel pieces, part-works and one-off features. He is married to the reviewer Pam Marrett and they have one daughter.

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780349112206: Lunch with Elizabeth David

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ISBN 10:  0349112207 ISBN 13:  9780349112206
Publisher: Abacus, 2000
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9780316850544: Lunch with Elizabeth David

Little..., 1999
Hardcover

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