The Last Banquet

As Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Jonathan Grimwood is a well-known author of fantasy and science fiction. Set against the backdrop of Enlightenment France, his first mainstream novel, The Last Banquet, is shocking, at times verging on disgusting, but always compelling.

We meet Grimwood's picaresque hero, Jean-Marie d'Aumout, at the age of five, sitting on a dung heap eating beetles. His parents are dead of starvation, his home ravaged. He is rescued by a duke and sent to school.

At school, his friends are Emile, Jerome and Charlot. Jean-Marie saves Charlot's sister, Virginie, from being attacked by a wolf, earning her father's gratitude; when they wed, Jean-Marie receives land, a chateau and a title.

He is now free to pursue his obsession with knowing the taste of everything and becomes an expert cook--as evidenced by his recipes for cat, wolf head, snake, flamingo tongues, tiger, mouse and dog. His is the avidity of a scientist: he is more interested in taxonomy, in classifying and finding where each animal's taste belongs, than he is in the actual eating--except for Roquefort cheese, which he adores. His gustatory pursuits are equaled by his amatory adventures; lovemaking is essentially another tasting experience.

Jean-Marie carries on a correspondence with Voltaire, entertains Ben Franklin and his Creole mistress, writes to the Marquis de Sade, fights in the Corsican War of Independence and houses a menagerie of animals.

This eccentric, strange man remains elusive--a perfect example of the anything-goes-but-superstition Age of Reason. The last scene is a stunner, foreshadowed but still a surprise. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

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