Monday, 19 November 2012


Ages ago I got excited about descriptions of food in novels and, reading JG
Farrell's magnificent Troubles now, I've just found another wonderful passage in the same vein. This one is about supper at a ball in a decaying hotel in Ireland in 1921:

"Not for many years had such a magnificent display been seen in the dining-room of the Majestic: the snowy linen that cloaked the tables, the silver winking in the candlelight, the golden-crusted battlemented pies filled with succulent game, pheasants and ducks in quivering aspic, brittle and juicy hams cured with sugar and cloves and crowned with white frills, spiced beef the colour of mud, and steaming pyramidal vol au vents overflowing with creamed chicken, mushrooms and seafood. On long silver platters salmon stretched themselves, heads and tails shining and perfect as if caught a moment before (if one forgot the clouded, resentful eye) while, in between, all that glorious pinkness was gradually scooped away by the deft and deferential waiters imported from Dublin for the purpose. And besides all that, the salads and the soups, the pates and the hors d'oeuvres, the sucking pig (which at that very moment, as his eye fell on it, caused Edward to knit his brows pensively and think of his own plump [piglet] darlings), the smoking pasties and pies, the delicate canapes, the cheeses that came not only from Ireland but from certain other countries as well (these cheeses, however, had been set at a table apart less their smell offend the ladies). Nor must the desserts be forgotten: the mountainous creamy trifles that gave off the fumes of sherry and cognac, the trembling fruit and wine jellies, both clear and cloudy, aquamarine and garnet, pearly blancmanges and black fruit puddings smeared with melting slabs of brandy butter... and, of course, many, many other things besides..."

There may be a Ph.D. topic waiting for someone on the function of food in the Irish novel, now I come to think of it, what with all that chicken and celery (see earlier post) in Portrait of the Artist; plus the really odd seduction, also in Troubles ("His hand touched one of Faith's shoulder-blades...Next it alighted on her hip-bone and pelvis...solid as an iron casserole, it would chime as clear as frost if one tapped it with a fork (no need to thnk now about the spongey tripes that might be cooking inside it)...But at this moment his hand, which had been hovering in the darkness over her ribs, swooped down to land by misfortune on Faith's ample bosom - which fled silkily in all directions, quivering like a beef jelly..."); not to mention the vital role of food (almost all of it revolting - most especially the crucial rabbit mousse ["what could be more delicious and delicate than a baby rabbit? Especially after it has been forced through a fine sieve and whizzed for ten minutes in a Moulinex blender"]) in Molly Keane's Good Behaviour:

"'I left a brace of woodcock on the hall table for you and your mother.'

For you and your mother. But would Rose cook them as she did for Papa? Crisp skins and pink flesh - a little blood leaking onto toast? Buttered crumbs and wafer potato chips and a wine sauce? I wondered. Mummie couldn't bear woodcock.

I had a premonition of future luncheons and dinners: spaghetti with a little melted butter cooling in the depths of the silver sauceboat, and a few crumbs of grated cheese. There would be plenty of baked apples, and stewed rhubarb with junket, roast beef on Sunday, and apple tart, or a grocer's jelly with preserved ginger chopped through it ... I could see myself hungry. I would keep my dress allowance to buy food; it was a cosy secret idea. Water biscuits (high-bake) and gentleman's relish and anchovy fillets, perhaps a bag of sugar for an occasional grapefruit, all to be stored in my bedroom, with a bottle of sherry now and then."

In that book, food and power go hand in hand.


  1. An iron casserole? The reaction of most persons to a rap where the bone lies close to the skin, however hard and heavy the bone may be, is intense pain: a howl or a moan, maybe, but not a ring. And if Faith was that ample atop, how would her hip bones be so palpable?

    Farrell sounds like an old S.J. Perelman piece "Methinks the Lady Do Protein Too Much"; but Perelman was out to be funny.

    1. Farrell is not without aspiration to comedy, by any means