Thursday, 11 June 2009

Julie & Julia

Anybody who knows me will tell you that I love food. I have also recently developed a passion for cooking. I have always enjoyed cooking but without my own kitchen I seldom had a chance to partake in the pleasure but now that I live with my boyfriend I am experimenting more and more in the kitchen (even though he is the one with culinary aspiration who has all of the fancy kitchen doodahs and sharp Global knives). I've even been known to watch a few cookery shows on TV here and there. However, other than the shelves of cookery books I don't know much about cooking in literature, exlcuding reading Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (sumptious book) many years ago or having the non-fiction of the delicious Anthony Bourdain on my Amazon wishlist. Julie and Julia (subtitled "My Year of Living Dangerously" in the paperback edition) by Julie Powell about her year of cooking all 524 recipes from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and the disasters and successes that ensue definitely appealed to me and was a departure from my normal reading habits (which are usually quite eclectic anyway). In Julie's own words:

"I'm a foulmouthed hysteric with misanthropic tendencies for whom things are constantly going terribly, terribly wrong."

Although non-fiction -it is based on real events in Julia Powell's life in the year 2002 when she embarked on the Julie/Julia project- it reads like fiction with an informal narrator who has a highly irreverant humour. It could be classed as chick-lit, to an extent (which is why it is definitely a reading departure for me), but although neurotic to the extreme, Julie attempts to cook more than Bridget Jones's stringy blue soup, although she does imbibe about the same amount of alcohol, smokes numerous cigarettes, and sprinkles as many -if not more- f**** in the mix.

Despite my love for food and quality eating I sometimes found the description of the cooking dry and I would skim through the ingredients and cooking processes to the funny bits (and there are many). Perhaps it is because rich French cooking doesn't excite me all that much and the French dish titles were too much for my rudimentary grasp of the language. Sometimes, I admit, I was more excited about the mention of Domino's Bacon & Jalapeno pepper pizza. The convoluted nature of MtAoFC (be prepared for that acronym often if you read it) didn't lend itself often to basic description in Julie & Julia although occasionally the insane expectations of culinary skill are highly amusing (as in the chapter "They Shoot Lobsters, Don't They?") It is Julie's warmth, her uncompromising pursuit of her project, and her neuroses that made this an enjoyable read; although the cooking aspect at its base is the vehicle for the book it is not a culinary expert's read but a layman's one. As a sometimes disastrous cook myself I willingly laughed along in empathy with Julie and as a bibliophile commiserated when she recounts the time in her youth that she attempted to cook a recipe -quail in rose petals- from Like Water for Chocolate.

One of my favourite passages:

"I felt like a Jane Austen heroine all of a sudden (except, of course, that Jane Austen heroines never cook), confusedly looking on at all the people she loves, their myriad unpredictable couplings and uncouplings. There would be no marriages at the end of this Austen novel, though, no happy endings at all."

If you don't enjoy a Bridget-Jones-esque light read with filthy language, sex, irreverance, and pop-culture references to Buffy then this is not the book for you. I also wouldn't recommend you read it if you are a Republican as it may offend. For me, it was a dollop of good fun and amusement with a peppering of interesting facts and anecdotes (I didn't know that Julia Child's kitchen had been transported to the last spoon to the Smithsonian, for instance).

The book is more Julie and less Julia (despite her influence) but the movie adaptation seems to have fleshed out Julia's part and made it an equal story about two intriguing women with a love for cooking. It also comes across in the trailer as being more chick-lit than the book, presumably in order to appeal more to a core market; I don't have a problem with this as I'm sure the film -like the book- will be entertaining.


farmlanebooks said...

I think I'll skip reading the book, but will make sure I buy the DVD as soon as it is released!

Paperback Reader said...

Jackie, I hope I haven't put you off unnecessarily but I don't want to recommend a book without full disclosure. This is the type of book that usually wouldn't appeal to me but the subject matter was intriguing; I realised that it wouldn't be to everybody's taste and felt it fair to make that clear.

FleurFisher said...

It does sound as though the material was better suited to reading on the original blog rather than in book form. I think that, like Jackie, I'll be waiting for the DVD.

Dot said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving such lovely comments! I keep coming across this Julie and Julia, think I shall have to check it out!

claire said...

Thanks for the very insightful review. I would probably just wait for the dvd, too, as I couldn't get past the first pages of Bridget Jones the books but really enjoyed both movies. I do love Like Water for Chocolate and also am interested in reading about food. I would rather like to read some other book on the subject though. :)

Paperback Reader said...

Dot, thanks for visiting my blog in return! I hope you enjoy Julie & Julia if you do check it out.

Claire and FleurFisher, I'm glad -in an odd way- that my review has influenced you some, even if it was to put you off the book! This isn't my usual choice of reading material and I did enjoy it but I think I needed something light and vacuously entertaining this week.

claire said...

Hi again Claire! Ironically, I have the opportunity of reviewing this book for free, and I jumped at the chance! Ha ha. I think the food as subject matter overshadowed the Bridget Jones feel. I need some light reading, too. Just goes to show how easily I would eat my words! :D

Paperback Reader said...

Haha! Well, if it's for free then why not? I agree that the subject matter certainly elevated it above chick lit status.

Book Psmith said...

First - I too think Bourdain is delicious - no one among my family and friends understands it - but there it is and I won't apologize. Your quote about Julie being a foul-mouthed hysteric goes to exactly why I am not liking this book. It taints everything for me. I think you were spot on when you assessed that there is more Julie and less Julia. I was hoping to read a book that was dedicated to Julie's process of cooking Mastering and got so much more than I bargained for.

Thank you for directing me to your review. I have been trying to read my way through your archives and am so enjoying your writing and photos.

Paperback Reader said...

Book Psmith, I didn't know who Anthony Bourdain was until some American friends illuminated me and ... oh my. I love his accent too. Don't apologise as you are in supportive company :).

Julie & Julia definitely wasn't the type of book I normally read but I like a change now and again. Julie Powell has a new book about butchery and I do wonder what approach she takes to that.

I am touched that you are reading through my archives; please feel free to comment on any posts that take your fancy.