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The Epicure's lament : a novel /

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Format: Book
Language: English
Published: Doubleday, 2004
Edition: First edition.
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For ten years, Hugo Whittier, upper-class scion, former gigolo, failed belle-lettrist has been living a hermit's existence at Waverly, his family's crumbling mansion overlooking the Hudson. He passes the time reading Montaigne and M.F.K. Fisher, cooking himself delicious meals, smoking an endless number of cigarettes, and nursing a grudge against the world. But his older brother, Dennis, has returned, in retreat from an unhappy marriage, and so has his estranged wife, Sonia, and their (she claims) daughter, Bellatrix, shattering Hugo's cherished solitude. He's also been told by a doctor that he has the rare Buerger's disease, which means that unless he stops smoking he will die--all the more reason for Hugo to light up, because his quarrel with life is bitter and an early death is a most attractive prospect. As Hugo smokes and cooks and sexually schemes and pokes his perverse nose into other people's marriages and business, he records these events as well as his mordant, funny, gorgeously articulated personal history and his thoughts on life and mortality in a series of notebooks. His is one of the most perversely compelling literary personalities to inhabit a novel since John Lanchester'sThe Debt to Pleasure, and his ancestors include the divinely cracked and eloquent narrators of the works of Nabokov. As snobbish and dislikable as Hugo is, his worldview is so enticingly conveyed that even the most resistant reader will be put under his spell. His insinuating voice gets into your head and under your skin in the most seductive way. And as he prepares what may be his final Christmas feast for family and friends, readers will have to ask, "Is this the end of Hugo?" The Epicure's Lamentis a wry and witty novel about love and death and family, a major contribution to a vein of literature that the author Kate Christensen has dubbed "loser lit." It more than fulfills the bright promise of her lavishly praised previous two novels, and gives us an antihero for our time--hard to like, impossible to resist.

Review by Booklist Review

Hugo Whittier is a 40-year-old misanthrope who lives alone at Waverly, his family estate. He smokes incessantly despite the fact that he's been diagnosed with Buerger's disease, which, if he continues to smoke, will kill him. Hugo's protracted suicide is disrupted when his older brother Dennis arrives to live with him. Dennis is fleeing his failed marriage to Marie and wrestling with his feelings for Marie's married best friend, Stephanie. When Hugo meets Stephanie, not only does he tell her Dennis isn't in love with her but he also sleeps with her. And then a letter arrives from Hugo's estranged wife, Sonia, announcing that she and their daughter (whom he believes is not actually his child) are coming to live at Waverly as well. What's a curmudgeon to do? Hugo reluctantly begins to plan a grand Christmas dinner for this unlikely assembly and also plans to take his own life to escape the pain of his disease. Unexpectedly charming in some places, absolutely dastardly in others, Hugo is an utterly unforgettable character. --Kristine Huntley Copyright 2003 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Christensen's two previous novels (Jeremy Thrane; In the Drink) were delightfully believable, sympathetic contemporary narratives filled with wry humor and appealing protagonists. Here she ups the ante, with loftier literary aspirations and succeeds masterfully. As a young man, Hugo Whittier dreamed of being a published poet and essayist. Now 40, with a string of failures behind him, he sits self-exiled at Waverly, the family home on the Hudson River, dryly churning out autobiographical notebooks while smoking fast and furiously enough to ensure his rapid, inevitable demise (he is suffering from Buerger's disease, "almost certainly terminal in patients who keep smoking"). Christensen keeps the entire work moving briskly with delicious sardonic wit ("More and more, as I contemplate my death, it strikes me as vital in some way to hedge my bets. These fragments here... I leave in lieu of a life's work, a series of achievements") as well as infectious, detailed references to M.F.K. Fisher's food writing and essayist Michel de Montaigne, who is the novel's chief inspiration. Throughout, narcissistic, put-upon Hugo is pulled into the lives of others, mostly family members, who suddenly descend upon him and disrupt his otherwise placid, predictable existence: the wife he hasn't seen in 10 years who seeks reconciliation, the on-the-verge-of-divorce older brother, the violin-playing 10-year-old who may or may not be his daughter, his "Fag Uncle Tommy" and even a hit man originally hired to kill him during his wild young gigolo, drug-dealing days. All have gravitated to the family residence by the novel's end, providing him with substantial material for meditations on art, God, pedophilia, justifiable homicide and his obsession with sex, among other topics. It all works because Christensen has created in Hugo an altogether appealing, irascible antihero, along the lines of Grady Tripp in Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys or Doug Willis in David Gates's Preston Falls. This is an impressive tome, one that tickles the funny bone and feeds the mind. (Feb. 17) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Composed as a series of journal entries by epicure and would-be hermit Hugo Whittier, this novel recounts the intrusions of a variety of family members and their friends into his solitary life at his home on the Hudson. The fortyish, misanthropic Hugo, who is presumably dying of the rare and painful Buerger's disease because he refuses to quit smoking, sets about causing trouble in the hopes of ridding himself of these interlopers, even as he insinuates himself into their lives. He undertakes an affair with his sister-in-law's best friend, Stephanie, and contracts for the death of Stephanie's husband, who he believes is a child molester. He entertains dishonorable intentions toward his brother's teenaged nanny and attempts to drive Sonia, his estranged wife, and alleged daughter Bellatrix out of his house and back to New York. Everything culminates in a lavish Christmas dinner involving all the major characters, after which Hugo plans to end his life. Christensen (In the Drink) has produced a mordantly comic romp led by a protagonist who often seems like a cross between Ignatius Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces and a Nabokov antihero. Recommended for all public libraries.-Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kate Christensen lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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