Friday, April 22, 2016

Oysters: A Challenge!

The Oysters of Locmariaquer by Eleanor Clark, published over 50 years ago, is a highly detailed combination of natural history, informal anthropology, personal experience, worldwide history, and maybe a few other things. The rambling narrative revolves around the life cycle of oysters and the people of one small town in Brittany who cultivate them, dipping in and out of many oyster-centered observations from prehistoric times, Roman times, modern times, and (sometimes it seems) on and on.

The attendees at my Culinary History Reading Group last Wednesday who had read or tried to read Clark's book agreed that it was a very difficult book to read. A couple of us had read it many years ago: we felt that our memories were better than we found the book this time, perhaps because so many following publications have combined the natural history and observations of people so much more effectively. Two such better and more recent books that the reading group has read are Trevor Corson's The Secret Life of Lobsters and Mark Kurlansky's Cod.

Every one of us was delighted with a review from a couple of years ago, titled "The oyster climbs the Great Chain of Being: Eleanor Clark’s Locmariaquer." This passage from the review seemed to summarize our reactions:
"...while The Oysters of Locmariaquer is a book one would certainly be glad to have read, it is not always a book one will enjoy in the midst of the reading. Clark’s style is discursive in the extreme, and at times she seems hellbent on making sure that the reader works hard to follow her meandering sentences. Then, too, there is the matter of how well she integrates the science of oyster biology within the story of a small area of Brittany where they used to be cultivated .... The honest answer is that ... Clark sometimes seems to get slightly lost in her detailed explanations of Belon biology – and as a result, so may her readers."
We were glad we tried, but found it very hard!

1 comment:

Debra Eliotseats said...

Isn't that the case so often---the memories are better. Thanks for the recommendations on the other books.