Jean-Marie d’Aumout is a liberal, democratic Frenchman obsessed with flavor whose life, narrated in an elegant debut, lays bare the extreme contrasts of pre-Revolutionary France.
First encountered at age 5, eating beetles from a dung heap, his parents dead in their run-down chateau, the boy who will become the Marquis d’Aumout never grows out of his fascination with how things taste. Rescued by the Duc d’Orléans, who gives him his first, divine taste of Roquefort cheese, d’Aumout is sent to school and then military academy, where the friends he makes will shape his life. Charlot, heir to the wildly wealthy Saulx estate, will introduce him to one of his sisters, Virginie, whose life d’Aumout will save twice. Grimwood’s sensuous, intelligent, occasionally drifting account of the marquis’s progress is constantly informed by French politics, notably the immense gulf between the nobility and the peasants whom d’Aumout at least treats with fairness. Scenes at Versailles underline the decadence which will lead to social collapse. Through it all, d’Aumout is driven by a hunger to taste everything—rat, wolf, cat, etc.—and an erotic appetite that is explicitly filled. Ben Franklin puts in a late appearance before the revolution begins, and d’Aumout prepares for a final, extraordinary meal.
Studded with bizarre recipes, this vividly entertaining account of a life lived during groundbreaking times is a curious, piquant pleasure.