What’s on the menu, Michel Houellebecq? Part One

Ever since I read Whatever (Extension du domaine de la lutte) I have been hooked on Houellebecq.  I can’t explain what it is about his writing that I like so much – maybe it’s his seemingly matter-of-fact turn of phrase, or maybe it’s because I feel some of the world weariness that he conveys through his protagonists, I’m not sure – but I find him a joy to read, if you can say that about someone who appears to have a more or less pessimistic view of life and the world in general.  Anyway, whilst most people dwell on the sex tourism, misogyny, genetic modification or the supposed “Islamophobia” when they think of Houellebecq what I (mainly) think about is the food and drink mentioned in his novels.  I don’t know why that’s so important to me, but then again I don’t know why I like to have lists, why I collect quotes, why I count things, why I like to look for connections – that’s just the way I am, I guess.

Whatever

In any case, here’s my list of what was on the menu in Whatever:

  • At least four vodkas at the work colleague’s party
  • Saupiquet tuna à la catalane
  • A foul coffee from an automatic machine with Catherine Lechardoy
  • A red bean taco in a Mexican restaurant, eaten whilst Jean-Pierre Buvet (a priest) talks about sexuality
  • Caramelized vermicelli as dessert, at which point J-P Buvet advises Our Hero to find God again or to go into psychoanalysis
  • A brandy, when J-P Buvet tells Our Hero that Jesus is the answer
  • A coffee
  • Unspecified farewell drinks for Jean-Yves Fréhaut
  • At least three glasses of (possibly) Crémant at Louis Lindon’s leaving do at the Ministry of Agriculture
  • Lunch with Tisserand and Schnäbele at the Department Headquarters for Agriculture building: unspecified hors d’oeuvre; steak béarnaise; crème caramel
  • A beer as an apéritif with Tisserand
  • A plate of chips drowned in mayonnaise and a beer with Tisserand at The Flunch
  • A beer in a student cafe with Tisserand
  • Cheese and sliced bread (bought at Nouvelles Galeries to take back to the hotel) and a six pack of Tuborg
  • Unspecified meal in the cafe where an Alsatian dog menaces the customers
  • Pizza, eaten standing up, alone in an establishment that was deserted – and which deserved to remain so
  • Unspecified dinner with Tisserand
  • Pastries brought to the hospital by Tisserand after the pericardial
  • Delicious apple tart – made by the wife of the worker who had been operated on and was in for his sixth stay at the hospital
  • At least three cognacs at the cafe opposite the station
  • A waffle (or something) from the waffle-seller’s stand near Buccaneer Cottages, whilst exchanging a few words with a dentist
  • Spaghetti at the pizzeria with Tisserand
  • A couple of bourbons in The Port of Call
  • A bottle of bourbon, purchased for 700 FF at the club
  • Raisin bread bought in the neighbourhood
  • Unspecified meal with a business manager and a managerial secretary
  • A coffee with the new immediate superior
  • A hamburger in a fast food joint before the appointment with the psychiatrist
  • Sliced bread
  • Communal meals at the rest home, although Our Hero vomited up solid foods straightaway
  • “What there is left to eat in the house” (four biscuits and a tin of sardines), before heading off to Saint-Cirgues-en-Montagne
  • A beer in the bar of the Parfum des Bois hotel
  • A hearty dinner from the ‘gastronomic menu’ (which is absolutely delicious) – crying whilst eating, emitting little sobs
  • Breakfast before leaving by bike for the Forest of Mazan

Other interesting food related concepts or incidents raised in Whatever: the ‘rural socialist’ Ministry of Agriculture representative brings a book called Cheesemaking and the Challenge of New Technologies to the meeting; ordering dinner by Minitel (an online service available through telephone lines); a less “savoury” concept mentioned is the idea that butcher boys masturbate using escalopes!; Tisserand, when he’s losing it, says he feels ‘like a shrink-wrapped chicken leg on a supermarket shelf’; the weapon purchased by Our Hero is a steak knife from the Unico; the young girls at The Port of Call are referred to as ‘fresh meat’; Our Hero hurls a tin of petit pois at his bathroom mirror; and Our Hero’s parents ate cold chicken after Our Hero was conceived (on a fake Pakistani rug).

Well, I don’t know about you but I rather enjoyed that little feast.  We shall have to wait for the Monoprix gourmet meals – they’ll be on the menu with Houellebecq another day!