Saturday, December 19, 2009

Symbolic Tastes

Because I try to look for food in almost everything I read, try to figure out what the author is doing with it, and then try to write it up briefly on this blog, I was interested in a brief post about food in fiction: "The exotic flavour of literary food" (posted at the Guardian online Books blog).

The author, Phil Hall, begins with a seasonal reference to the plum pudding served by Mrs Cratchit in "A Christmas Carol." He thinks the passage where Dickens describes the flaming pudding may "actually represent the victory of the literary imagination over taste." He also cites foods that are either imaginary or unfamiliar to readers, and how they nevertheless can sound delicious, both literally and symbolically -- he writes:
There is a strong synesthesia that takes hold of the reader when food is described in literature. A simple sketch easily conjures up the platonic essence of food and drink. When you read the description of frying kidneys at the beginning of Ulysses it is advisable to open the curtains and at least one window.

But the corollary of this is that no cherries will ever taste as delicious as the ripe cherries in The Snow Queen and no Martini will ever be able to match James Bond's in Casino Royale, shaken or stirred.
I'm not sure I have such a profound view of food in literature, myself. I usually find that it advances or reinforces some of the themes of the book. While it sometimes does sound delicious, I'm not sure about a question like this: "How about the Forbidden Fruit in Genesis, and was it really as good as the Russet Matthew Cuthbert gave Anne in Anne of Green Gables?" Food in books just doesn't grab me the way he describes. What's the matter with me?

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