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The Epicure's Lamentby Kate Christensen
"Hugo Whittier, the antihero of Kate Christensen's tremendously entertaining third novel, is every bit as tormented, irascible, self-hating, and funny as any other classic loser of contemporary literature. Think Martin Amis's John Self, then add dashes of Montaigne and M.F.K. Fisher....The plot of The Epicure's Lament is rather thin, but no matter: You'll find yourself intensely involved with Chistensen's epigrammatic Hugo." Adrienne Miller, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
Synopses & Reviews
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’s The 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 Lament is 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.
"What a wonderfully monstrous voice Kate Christensen has created in Hugo Whittier, trust-fund misanthrope, chain-smoking foodie, confirmed cad. His narration is as rich and textured as his Lobster Newburg, which I can almost taste. May we all simmer in the dark with such humor and gusto." Sam Lipsyte, author of The Subject Steve
"[Christensen] succeeds masterfully....It all works because Christensen has created in Hugo an altogether appealing, irascible antihero....This is an impressive tome, one that tickles the funny bone and feeds the mind." Publishers Weekly
"Unexpectedly charming in some places, absolutely dastardly in others, Hugo is an utterly unforgettable character." Kristine Huntley, Booklist
"Christensen 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." Library Journal
"The excitement in reading this (for those who find it exciting) is partly the whooshing release of the repressed and partly the thrill of transgression. It feels both wicked and daringly honest....Maybe Christensen gets Hugo just right...but only a man could testify to the accuracy of that. With female readers, Hugo must get by on personality alone, and by some minor miracle, Christensen pulls it off....The Epicure's Lament becomes funnier the more Hugo begins to engage with the people he purports to loathe, and the more it becomes clear he's not quite ready to leave yet. Why an author would set herself the formidable task of creating such a creature — and then convincing us to like him — is a bit puzzling, but why look a gift horse in the mouth?" Laura Miller, Salon.com
From the author of In the Drink comes a compelling novel about a man smoking himself to death. A literary tour de force of bitter humor and gorgeously articulated misanthropy to rival the works of Martin Amis and John Lanchester.
Hugo Whittier-failed poet and former kept man-is a wily misanthrope with a taste for whiskey, women, and his own cooking. Afflicted with a rare disease that will be fatal unless he quits smoking, Hugo retreats to his once aristocratic familys dilapidated mansion, determined to smoke himself to death without forfeiting any of his pleasures. To his chagrin, the world that he has forsaken is not quite finished with him. First, his sanctimonious older brother moves in, closely followed by his estranged wife, their alleged daughter, and his gay uncle. Infuriated at the violation of his sanctum, Hugo devises hilariously perverse ploys to send the intruders packing. Yet the unexpected consequences of his schemes keep forcing him to reconsider, however fleetingly, the more wholesome ingredients of love, and life itself.
About the Author
Kate Christensen grew up in California and Arizona. She is a graduate of Reed College and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Also the author of the novels In the Drink and Jeremy Thrane, she lives in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn with her husband.
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