Lanchester's debut in the recent cookbook-cum-novel sweepstakes is a tour de force certain to please some highly, while others may be worn down by an incremental pace and unceasingly (if expertly) mannered tone. What can be told without spoiling the tale--for there's a mystery here--is that the book is the story of a life, the life is that of an Englishman named Tarquin (originally Rodney) Winot, and Winot himself is the speaker of every carefully weighed sentence and exquisitely formed paragraph from start to end. A world-class chef and scholar extraordinaire (he calls himself an artist) of food and cuisine (not to mention manners, lore, and history in general), Winot hasn't lived a life that could be called underprivileged: With an ex-actress mother and an international-businessman father, both Winot and his older brother Bartholomew (who went on to become an internationally lionized artist and sculptor) were raised in a world of comfort and sophistication. Living both in London and Paris, the children had the benefit of cooks, nannies, and tutors--whose amusing quirks, oddities, and (above all) curious demises are narrated by Winot with customarily dry but unflaggingly amusing understatement and wit. As the book opens, the irrepressible Winot is driving through France, offering up opinions on the wines, foods, and art of Normandy and Brittany as he heads, ostensibly, for his house in Provence. He does reach the house, but things take on a deepened tone when he hooks up certain electronic spying devices, trails a young couple, and finally grants an interview--in which, to the reader, the increasingly mannered Winot at last reveals all--with a biographer-to-be of his illustrious brother. From a raconteur second to none, then, a whole-earth monologue that lectures on subjects from pancakes to poison peaches, gives opinions on matters from clothing to curry, and touches on life's crises from cradle to grave. For the intellectual reader, a feast, complete with hint of decay.