THE BANQUET by Carolyn Slaughter


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A Roald Dahl-ish short story idea--inflated into a short novel, with some erotic/ creepy texture, by the author of Heart of the River, Magdalene, and Relations. Henry Moreton, 31, a London kitchen-architect, becomes infatuated at first sight with 20-year-old Blossom, a comely deputy supervisor (in the food department) at Marks & Spencer. After weeks of soulful staring, he approaches her at last, asks her out. Blossom, attached to her lower-middle-class family but longing for better things, is flattered, fascinated, then swept off her feet--with glorious food (Henry's a gourmet), glorious sex, and Henry's gentle, doting worship. There's a blissful weekend excursion, vows of undying passion. But, while slivers of first-person narration foreshadow tragedy, it becomes increasingly clear that Henry's oral-obsessive, possessive love for Blossom has a pathological side to it: he was deserted by an adored mother at age six, then dragged by his father into ""the rigours and rituals of a frantic and terrifying Catholicism."" So, when Blossom starts to pull away just slightly from Henry's all-consuming attachment, he responds with irrational rage--leading to a fatal accident and the Dahl-ish punchline: the ultimate last step in an oral-compulsive relationship. (""He knew that only her body could save him."") The clinical side of Henry's hangup is the weakest element here--unconvincing, simplistic, heavyhanded: ""I was trying, through you, to reincarnate my mother. . . I buried the corpse of my childhood, my mother, my God. . . ."" And the final pages are packed with tinny contrivance: the accident, the cannibalism, a stuck-in bit of quasi-feminist thematics. (""I had learned from her a woman's obsession, a woman's weakness: to live my love affair and allow it to dominate all the areas of my life."") But, if never spell-binding in the tradition of Fowles' The Collector, this teased-out tale does deliver a certain cool intensity--with more than a few strong, spare evocations of oral, food/sex eroticism.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1984
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin