I need your help with fictional food

September 29, 2010

I have a little quest, and I think all my beloved shuckers are just the folk to help me. I need to compile a list of novels in which food and cookery is central – can be any genre, any era, just so long as food is somehow inextricably linked to the story and the characters. Australian novels most particularly welcome, but all suggestions will be very warmly welcomed. As we’ve discussed before here and here, I am quite keen on bad food in fiction – and not so interested in the exotic school of luscious lyrical pomegranate/chocolat/cinnamon-and-jaggery-love (or as @cityoftongues rather more tartly termed them in a Twitter chat this morning, ‘chutney and incest novels’)  but still, all ideas welcome.

All this is in aid of a proposal I’m writing for some academic work on food in literature – and as the highly sophisticated, erudite and learned creatures you are, I just know you will have some contributions for me!

And by the way, I have some happy news. I can officially announce that my new novel, Animal People, has been accepted for publication by the wonderful folks at Allen & Unwin. It will be out toward the end of next year – October 2011 to be precise – giving me a gorgeously long lead time for editorial sprucing. I am so thrilled they will have me back.

Now, kiddies, I look forward to your fictional food suggestions!


  1. A lot of Dickens has mouth-watering descriptions of food in it – the two that immediately spring to mind are A Christmas Carol and The Pickwick Papers, and I think that food is integral to them because they really involve the main characters interacting in ways that move the plot. Then there is Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel. And Chocolat by Joanne Harris. There are probably loads more (and I can’t think of any Australian ones at the moment) but I am sure other people will come forth with more suggestions. ‘Chutney and incest’ is very funny!!

  2. What about The Edible Woman – Margaret Atwood xx

  3. Hi Charlotte, Congratulations! That is wonderful news – not that anyone doubted your next book would be snapped up immediately. re food themed books, you probably remember “Like Water for Chocolate” by Laura Esquivel and another Joanne Harris “Five Segments of the Orange”. Anthony Bourdain wrote a novel called “Bone in the Throat” (I hope you don’t have to read it!), “The Gourmet” by Muriel Barbery and “The Guernsey Literary & Potato Pie Society” by Mary ann Shaffer.

  4. Excellent news about Animal People! I love the way you just produce these books without the angst and handwringing that it would produce in most people (OK, I’m talking about myself here). It’s nice to see a real pro who makes it look easy (I know it’s not).

    Food in fiction is a hard one, I’ve been trying to think about good examples but none spring to mind…Like Water for Chocolate wasn’t bad….but once food becomes a selfconscious element of a novel it seems to be really difficult for authors to write.

    Kind of like good sex scenes in fiction. Maybe there should be a Bad Food Writing Award just like the Bad Sex Scene Award…

  5. Couple of thoughts off the top of my head – food is central in Alice in Wonderland. Plus t=here are some quite lovely food quotes and ideas here: http://www.pbs.org/opb/meaningoffood/food_and_culture/food_and_literature/

  6. There is a whole genre of food-related mysteries, the “culinary cozies”, and an overview of a US food fiction course here

  7. It probably would be good to check out the novels of Canberra-based Marion Halligan. Even her ‘detective fiction’, such as The Apricot Colonel and The Apricot Coast, is awash with food references. Being a long-time food reviewer, food and eating does seem to be central to Marion’s writing.

    Oh and huge congrats on the forthcoming novel.

  8. Great news!

    I’d add The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester (clever and funny and deliciously sinister); Cooking with Fernet Branca by Hamilton-Patterson (again, funny, but I sold HEAPS of it to food-people one Christmas a few years ago…the smoked cat recipe is hilarious) and yes, anything by Marion Halligan.

    • Yes, I was going to make those exact suggestions! Both hilarious. And if bad food is what you’re after you really can’t go past Cooking with Fernet Branca.

  9. Wonderful news on Aminal People Charlotte- so looking forward to reading it. Well done,

    Delighted to apply brain to food research in books or elsewhere. Pending bright ideas, I assume you know about the Virago anthology of Food
    (in Fiction) or somesuch title? Hardback was remaindered at Gleebbooks and elsewhere.

    Marion Halligan certainly loves her tucker, and there is the well named The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill set in Laos- unusual detective. Ritual of red bush tea and pumpkin etc in Ladies No I Detective; and of course Donna Leon’s superior detective books set in Venice with food being central to Commissario Brunetti’s life and that of his family.

    Dickens has a lot indeed, poor David Copperfield and his penny buns and chops; food is treated seriously. Ghastly fish and father in The Man who loved Children;strange coloured food in The Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, but where is it central?

    Lots of detective ones indeed,as mentioned above, also Janet Laurence ones about cookery writer Darina Lisle, Kerry Greenwood’s series about the baker but you mean other types I know.

  10. Apart from ‘Heartburn’, Nora Ephron, I can’t think of one in which food is central, but I love Dora’s dinner of under-boiled mutton and unshucked oysters in David Copperfield. Also cringe-enjoyed Florence and Edward’s wedding supper – ‘the dinner they had no appetite for’ – in ‘On Chesil Beach’ Ian McEwan. In Australian fiction, there’s a Joan London short story in Sister Ships called ‘New Year’, and I have a food association w ‘The Mint Lawn’ Gillian Mears – though read it many years ago, and can’t remember specifics. In ‘Feeling Sorry for Celia’, Jaclyn Moriarty, there is funny relationship between the character Elizabeth and her mother, conducted via fridge door notes which feature instructions for getting dinner started.

  11. What about ‘Babette’s Feast’ (Isak Dinesan) and’Harnessing Peacocks (Mary Wesley)?

  12. “Garden Spells” by Sarah Addison Allen is a food-heavy, light-hearted bit of magical realism. I seem to remember Robin Klein’s “All in the Blue Unclouded Weather” series having a fair bit of food, but it’s been years since I read those books, so don’t take my word for it.

    I’ll second the suggestion of Joanne Harris’ “Five Quarters of the Orange,” which is really more about food than “Chocolat” is.

    You may want to take a look at Novel Food, a blog event that asks food bloggers to cook a dish inspired by a literary work:
    http://champaign-taste.blogspot.com/2010/08/novel-food-fall-2010-edition.html (follow tags to find the entries from previous years)

    I’ve cooked meals for the event inspired by books that aren’t traditional “food novels,” but do have food as a recurring theme, such as “Tokyo Fiancee” by Amelie Nothomb, and Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front.” (Remarque’s novel “Arc de Triomphe” uses Calvados as a metaphor for memory – does that count as “food”?)

  13. Congratulations again, Charlotte, and FANTASTIC title, it gives me a little thrill of anticipation!

    Hmmm… will think on the food lit.

  14. Man oh man, you guys are GOOD! This is all so helpful. Some I had on my list – specially Halligan and Lanchester, but lots and lots and lots I’ve never heard of. And even references to other lists! Thank you all so much. I’ll let you know when it comes time to write the chapters, and you can do those for me too. Fabulous work.

  15. Just remembered that the Jane Austen society of Adelaide- yes I was drummed out for wearing a tartan fichu- has Jane Austen food evenings. Can give you contact – who is an excellent cook – if required.

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