They meet by chance in 1940 - the debonair gastronome Norman Douglas and a stylish, slightly haughty, well-bred Elizabeth Gwynne - at a street market in the South of France. He lectures her on the marvels of tarragon, and in that seminal moment in Antibes begins the epicurean tutelage of the woman who became Elizabeth David, England's premier writer on continental cuisine, and who reeducated the palate of the English-speaking world with the robust flavors of Mediterranean living.
In that moment, too, Elizabeth David enters the enchanted circle of Norman Douglas's friends, among them Graham Greene, Gracie Fields, Nancy Cunard, and, less famously but more significantly, Eric Walton, the man who has known him as Uncle Norman since 1910, when a boyish scrape during a fireworks display at Crystal Palace introduced a working-class kid from North London to the intriguing, worldly gentleman who would take him to the sun-drenched shores of southern Italy. >From idyllic Mediterranean days in Calabria before World War I through the hardships and tensions of Vichy France to the drudgery of England's recovery from World War II and finally the affluence of high-living contemporary London, this evocative novel artfully charts a journey that ends with a perfect - and long-haunting - lunch on the island of Capri.
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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 PetrieAbout 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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Book Description Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Brand new copy. Ships fast secure, expedited available!. Bookseller Inventory # 3UBDHI0004ZW
Book Description Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2000. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0786707070
Book Description Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2000. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. First Edition. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0786707070
Book Description Book Condition: Brand New. Book Condition: Brand New. Bookseller Inventory # 97807867070721.0
Book Description Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2000. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110786707070