jim crace interviewed by jason sherman at 4 pm, and reading with Timothy findley and ved mehta at 8 pm, Saturday (October 20) at Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queen's Quay West). $18. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNN
considering that jim crace's last novel, Being Dead, opened with the book's two central characters lying dead on a beach, you have to greet his desire to write a short, light book about food with some suspicion.The Birmingham journalist-turned-author seems drawn to the dark. Being Dead put the tale of the disintegration of a couple's relationship alongside the disintegration of their bodies on an English beach, depicted in often unsettling detail.
As it turns out, Crace's food book, The Devil's Larder, is not just an airy collection of favourite Tuscany recipes and restaurant reviews.
It's actually 64 short, short stories about how food consumes us. That affiliation can be sensual, sexual, sentimental and just plain disturbing, particularly in the things people will do for a fantastic meal.
In these gripping two-page tales, Crace tells of a country chef who serves ornery customers plates of spoiled mussels, a wife who adds a sprinkling of her dead husband's ashes to her dinner and a restaurant in the bush where diners arrive at midday for the famed Curry No. 3, a delicious mystery dish that could include rat, dog or "the tourist who never made it back to her hotel."
It's the mystery of food and its unusual hold on us that interests Crace. Each of the characters in the book is obsessed by food, whether it's an actual meal or simply the imagined smell of an old soup stone.
"In my mind, this isn't a book about food at all," Crace offers from Los Angeles. "It's a book about culture and our sense of self and our sense of body. If you tried any of the recipes from The Devil's Larder, you'd end up at best with a case of botulism and at worst in an early grave.
"We normally think food is about recipes and restaurants. It is, but it's also the one way we take the outside world inside. We are ingesting the landscape, actually taking the world inside us, and that's amazing."
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the devil's larder by Jim Crace (Penguin), 194 pages, $29.99 cloth. Rating: NNNN