Muriel Barbery Interview


Copyright Stéphane Barbery, All rights reserved.


After the success of her first novel translated into English, The Elegance of the Hedgehog,Europa Editions is publishing her much awaited second novel, Gourmet Rhapsody.  Although Gourmet Rhapsody was actually written and published first in France, the success of her second novel in the United States has led us back to her fiction debut. 

Now living in Kyoto, Japan with her husband, Mrs. Barbery is at work on her third novel.  Her husband, Stephane, is a talented photographer who is an integral part of her writing process and shares her love for the Japanese culture.  I was able to interview Mrs. Barbery via email about her new novel and her success.

(As of September 4, the author has requested to have the interview removed save these two questions.)

There is such a respect for food in this novel from the origins of the food to the preparation to the enjoyment.  That reverence is reflected in the richness and texture of the prose.  What led you to choose Monsieur Arthens profession as a food critic?

I did not choose anything. Writing is like desire: unpredictable, partly incomprehensible. One day, I sat at my desk and I wrote the last scene of Gourmet Rhapsody. It had been almost fifteen years that I did not write fiction. I wrote short stories between twelve and fifteen, then only personal texts with no hint of fiction. What happened this day? I don’t know. I had no idea, five minutes before that I was going to make this character up.

This single scene, thanks to my husband, became a short story then a novel. I wrote it in six weeks. It was fast and obvious, as the main character is. Maybe because of my taste for the pleasures of the table, for culinary sensations,for eating and tasting and discovering new savors. Maybe because, when you like it as much as I like it, the luster of language, nothing is more rich and generous than the lexicon and register of flesh. It allows to deploy all strength of words and style – at least, to try to deploy it. And for personal reasons, this character, with both power and blindness, was very interesting for me. At last, maybe because writing about food and flesh is an excellent way to address the issue of desire, emotions and goal of life. This gives rise to a world of feelings, to the account of an entire life through evocation of food memories.

I am not a storyteller and I regret it. I write with no interest for the story,just following the flow of language. This setting – the food critic, the search of a lost savor – was perfect to let my writing go freely while telling a lot of short stories.

There is so much detail and Proustian description from all the senses when it comes to Monsieur Arthens memories of food.  Is this knowledge innate, from experience, from research or a combination of all three?

I never do any research and I have the same experience as anybody. When I wrote the novel, I could certainly not afford gastronomical restaurants.

I just try to turn my sensations into words and sentences, with the maximum accuracy and joy. It’s a game, a chase with a double but simple challenge: to honor language, to make impalpable feelings become palpable. I am my own and unique material.


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