A menu can embody the anthropology of a culture, or the psychology of an individual; it can be the sociology, psychology and biology of its creator and its audience and, of course, to their geographical location; it can be a way of knowledge, a path, an inspiration, a Tao, an ordering, a shaping, a manifestation, a talisman, an injunction, a memory, a fantasy, a consolation, an allusion, an illusion, an evasion, an assertion, a seduction, a prayer, a summoning, an incantation murmured under the breath as the torchlights sink lower and the forest looms taller and the wolves howl louder and the fire prepares for its submission to the encroaching dark.
And it’s from this deluge of highfalutin contemplation, that Lanchester allows his protagonist Tarquin Winot to emerge.
The Debt to Pleasure is structured by seasonal menus, with each quarter of the novel divided by a selection of foods typical of and appropriate to the individual season. Some of the best include recipes for blinis, Irish stew, queen of puddings (the first ever dish Tarquin learns to cook), bourride, peaches in red wine and a variety of curries. These menus and their accompanying recipes are the subtext for Tarquin’s memories: for our enigmatic protagonist it is food, not human interaction, that holds the power to provoke memory and emotion. In each dish, we find ourselves entering an increasingly uncomfortable world of Tarquin’s snobbish obsession.