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Allan Emerson's Blog

When fictional characters eat...

Sooner or later, even in the most fast-paced thriller, the characters have to stop and eat. Sometimes it’s a gourmet meal described in loving detail, other times it’s packaged convenience store stuff. I often think you can tell how much the writer enjoys food or cooking by the way the details are handled in these scenes.

Eating scenes don’t feature much in my mystery, Death of a Bride and Groom. My divorced sleuth is addicted to doughnuts, although he doesn’t realize that he’s substituting them for something else he misses. It isn’t until he meets his gorgeous new girlfriend that he loses interest in the deep-fried treats. She doesn’t cook, so he makes breakfast for her, although it’s pretty standard: bacon and eggs.

In Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, people don’t eat much better: mainly sandwiches and coffee. At least those sound more appetizing than Jane Eyre’s burnt porridge, or Oliver Twist’s gruel. Of course, for truly shocking fare, Shakespeare was the master. In Timon of Athens, Timon offers his false friends a dinner of stones in boiling water. It gets worse--in Titus Andronicus, Titus revenges himself on a perfidious queen by serving her sons up to her in a pie. (It's probably best to bring your own food if you're invited to a get-together in one of Shakespeare's plays.)

For more elevated dining, Ian Fleming’s James Bond was always discriminating in the food and drink line. We all know how particular he was about his martinis, and in Casino Royale he impresses a snooty headwaiter with his discerning choice of tournedos (small pieces of beef tenderloin) with sauce Béarnaise and artichoke hearts.

In Moby Dick, Herman Melville waxed ecstatic about clam chowder for most of a chapter. Here’s a small sample:

“Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty voyage … and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we despatched it with great expedition”

I’m a little doubtful about the “pounded ship biscuit,” but maybe it tasted better than it sounds. At any rate, there’s no doubt the characters enjoyed the chowder; later on, they order it for breakfast the next morning.

Excuse me for a minute, I’m just going to go get myself a little soup...and perhaps a doughnut or two. And didn’t I see some fresh raspberries in the fridge? Maybe a dollop of lime sherbet ….

What kind of meals do you remember from your favorite books? If you’re a writer, what meals have you treated your characters to?

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