Rating – 4 stars
In some way or another we all find in our lives at least once that one friend who positively spells trouble for us, with a capital ‘T’ involved in it. Sometimes just being friends with him/her is reason enough to be considered as an accomplice to so distinguished a person. And heaven forbid, you are spotted in close vicinity to one of those little tricks your friend is fond of playing then there is no way you can escape the aftermath, should the situation arise.
What can you do in a situation as dire as this to prove your innocence? Rat out on your friend or hope to all that is holy, the truth be out or else you are done for. Especially if the said friend is not around when the alarm bells ring and you are caught.
It’s somewhat a similar situation here, in Ian Flitcroft’ The Reluctant Cannibals, that Mr. Augustus Bloom & Co. find themselves in. They are dealing with the aftermath of a situation that has arisen courtesy of their friend Arthur Plantagenet. The catch is they can’t rely on him to bail them out, you see he is dead and that is in itself the problem.
Founders of the shadow faculty of gastronomic science, Augustus Bloom & Co. are friends and colleagues at St. Jerome’ college in Oxford in 1969. As was the late Prof. Arthur Plantagenet. These gentlemen who all happened to be teachers of different fields ranging from medicine to law to history in the institution, one of them is a chaplain – happen to have one thing in common with each other. They are all connoisseurs of good food in other words they are gastronomes. To put it plainly in layman’ term they are foodies, but that would be a vulgar term in their mind, considering they happen to be present in Oxford during the late 1960’s. Also they all swear by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin‘ The Physiology of Taste, that gastronomy should be declared a science, which can allow people as themselves to dedicate their lives to the art of cooking & dining.
These gentlemen in their love of food and with the intent of fine dining and wining form a society within the college called the shadow faculty of gastronomic science. There are rules which are followed stringently by which the membership of this society is upheld. You can be included or excluded depending on how you abide by these rules.
Their love of food naturally has them ever in pursuit of the finest meal possible, by extension of which they hold dinners at the end of each college term. Now the wish to have the best possible meals at all times of your life is a natural one, but not always prudent. As is discovered by Prof. Arthur Plantagenet; his appetite or perhaps his habits to have the most scrumptious meal possible always, takes a toll on his health with his ever-increasing weight. Against the advice of his doctor, Arthur doesn’t give up his love of food and thereby decides to dedicate not only the rest of his days to his love of gastronomy but also afterwards.
You see, in his final days decided on trying as much variety of food as possible, Arthur is relentless; however the one question that bothers him the most is that the greatest taboo in the civilized human society – the act of cannibalism or anthropophagy as Arthur likes to put it. Hence in the final act of eccentricity Arthur in his will decides to leave a part of himself to be consumed, naming his friends and colleagues as the executors of his will. So that the forbidden can be explored and the greatest question answered – How does human flesh taste?
Naturally, Dr.Bloom & Co. are in a pickle (pun intended).
How the remaining members of this secret dining society tackle the implications of their late friend’s actions and the hurdles they face along the way forms the crux of the story; as in answering this one question they face many others ranging from the moral to the ethical to the spiritual to the legal.
As a reader, the things that make me pick up a book are perhaps ordinary, the gorgeous cover, the word of mouth recommendations or the popularity of the book from the best-selling charts or the news of an award (if any) won by the book lately. Next of course I read the synopsis, take a quick peek into goodreads and see the reviews, what is being thought about the book, if I find myself excited, I am sold and the book ends up in my TBR pile for sure.
It’s at rare times that the title makes me take notice of the book than the other things, as is the case here. Browsing Netgalley as I came across the page with this one, I paused and for a moment asked myself did I read that right? The Reluctant Cannibals – really?! And I don’t mean this negatively but that is such an unusual title. It’s a paradox in itself. How can someone be a cannibal and yet be reluctant at the same time or be reluctant and yet be a cannibal? Let alone a group of people as the title implies plural and which was confirmed on my reading the synopsis.
So yes, out of curiosity and may be because of my fascination with the morbid, wicked and perhaps bizarre along with gory made me request the book and what do you know I get an approval ! And I am so happy to say my hunch was right! This book is amazing, really it deserves the awards it has either won or be shortlisted for. Believe me I don’t make comments like these lightly.
What did surprise me was reading Mr. Flitcroft’ author profile on goodreads – I never would have taken this for the work of a début author it’s so brilliantly written. I never could have guessed it either, but nonetheless I am incredibly happy to be one of the first few people who got a chance to read the brilliant work of a new author who I believe is here to stay. Cause a man who can write about such a bizarre and lets admit it to a degree such a revolting idea the way Mr. Flitcroft has managed, there is no doubt in my mind I came across another author extraordinaire.
Not only is the writing so refined but funny too, which I was so pleased by, as I did not expect it to be so owing to the subject but boy was I wrong. And at times like these I find it a pleasure.
The characters right from the eccentric Prof. Plantagenet to the practical Dr. Bloom to the morally shaken poor reverend Charles Pinker are written in a well-rounded way. Even the character of the honorable Matthew Kingsley-Hampton, whose only honorable attribute is the title bestowed upon him because otherwise to put it mildly he is a jerk or a complete asshole.
The only character that I did not like much was of Patrick Eccles, one of Augustus’ students and the dorm mate of honorable Matthew Kingsley-Hampton, to me he was a bit of doormat. Granted the chap is poor and all but really you gotta have some guts man, and not be strong only in numbers.
All in all a splendid read.
Not for the faint of heart and certainly those of stomach of course !
Recommended to fans of Hannibal ;- )
I was provided an advance readers copy for the purpose of reviewing courtesy of Legend Press and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review of the book. This review is in no way influenced and is solely based on my opinion.