Saturday, January 11, 2014

Provence 1970

by Luke Barr

I really wanted to like this book, but it's a bit of a mess. 

First of all, in writing this book, Barr is trying to capitalize on the moment. Food writing is at its most popular and most prolific, as a genre for professional writers to amateur bloggers. What better time to publish this book? While it's a loving homage to his great aunt M.F.K. Fisher, the language and the descriptions are a little too precious. 

I do not worship at the alter of French cooking or French food, or Julia Child, for that matter. (Although I do respect the way that woman cooked an egg.) I am now more interested in M.F.K. Fisher and her philosophy of "For my own meals I like simplicity above all." So a book about the American foodie scene turning away from its fancy French infatuation and pretension appeals to me. But what stands out to me about this book is how poorly executed it is. 

Barr's book is chock-full of nostalgia. Nostalgia for his childhood with his aunt, for his own time in Provence at the Child's Provence La Pitchoune home, to reiterating his aunt's nostalgia for the Provence-that-was, pre-1970. The repetition is terrible. Barr latches on to a theme and beats it to death.

I got caught up on is Barr's lack of story telling. He's a teller rather than a show-er. For pages and pages, every vignette seems to end with something to the tune of, But attitudes were changing, or, But things were about to change, or, Nothing was going to be the same It's painfully repetitive.  We get it. Just show me the change, tell me the story, not your foreshadowings. It's filler it's an attempt to create tension, or suspense, or plot where there is none. But maybe the fault is in my reading, approaching this book too much like a memoir rather than the biography it is. It picks up speed about halfway through the book, when Barr spends more of his time talking about Julia Child's tensions with Simone Beck and her dislike of French snobbery in cooking. Ultimately, the huge change Barr constantly foreshadows is that M.F.K. Fisher decided she was content to not go back to France and live out her days in California with her family and simple food. *Shockwave*

I know how important these people and France were in changing the attitudes of American cooking and American food. I love the movie Julie and Julia. But I'm more interested in the Alice Waters, fresh, seasonal food philosophy than French influence. I have no desire to read Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Currently I'm lusting over Nigel Slater's Notes from the Larder. Provence 1970 is not a bad book. But it's not good, either. The writing is cozy and loving and comfortable. It's a nice read, but nothing to write home about.

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