Monday, January 26, 2009

Soup To Nuts

I have for some years been reading both Margaret Drabble and the late Iris Murdoch quite dedicatedly (about a dozen books each) and have juxtaposed them in my mind as the Beatles and Rolling Stones (respectively) of British letters of the past half century. This comparison doesn't hold up on a number of levels (e.g. the 20 year discrepancy in their ages, partly mitigated by Drabble's first novel having appeared only 9 years after Murdoch's), but I'm sticking to it. (Sometime, I'll get around to recent Nobel laureate Doris Lessing, Murdoch's coeval from the post-WWI baby boom, and fit her into the equation too.)

In any event, Drabble (the principal subject of this blog's debut post) is the sunnier of the two, even when she is taking on weighty and difficult themes. Murdoch's obsession (I think that is not overstating) with the destructive but irresistible lure of infidelity and its attendant demons, jealousy, envy, rage and despair (did I leave anything out?) dominates her work. I have just finished 1978's The Sea, The Sea which was no exception. It also falls into the subcategory of "rather creepy middle-aged male narrators" that she had already developed in The Black Prince and A Word Child. These protagonists, with a not-so-subtle hint of Humbert, tend to be distinctly unreliable. The Black Prince 's Bradley Pearson is the most Nabokovian – in The Sea… the implication seems to be more that no one reports honestly in matters of sex and love.

The Sea…'s Charles Arrowby has certain other compulsive habits in his narration (he is ostensibly writing memoirs), one of which is the excessively punctilious placement of single quotes (inverted commas, to our UK friends) around any word or phrase that is remotely vernacular or even just metaphoric. Another is recounting in some detail each of his meals, prepared in a style jestingly called "gastronomic mysticism" by one of the other characters but actually, by current standards, quite admirable in their use of simple, fresh, predominantly plant-based ingredients.

As a tribute to Iris Murdoch and the unlovely Arrowby, I report my last few dinners: Saturday, I sautéed shallots and garlic, added steamed rainbow Swiss chard and some Great Northern beans to the pan, fried up two links (cut in half-inch segments) of chicken sausage, and mixed it all up with a pot of brown rice. Sunday's goal was to wash only one pot as much as anything else, so I boiled Fontina and prosciutto ravioli, threw in a handful of green peas and topped it with shredded Asiago. This evening, despairing of the fact that all the brands of sausage at the nearby market that tout their ethical, ecological and health attributes are made from chicken, I bought pork sausage with sage (no doubt engineered in unthinkable squalor), cooked it thoroughly, browned some onion and beet greens, and had it all over rigatoni. The beets themselves (from which the greens were taken) roasted in the oven for 45 minutes, wrapped in foil sachets with olive oil, salt and pepper - the first of three went with the dinner, the other two will enliven tomorrow's lunch.

1 comment:

Owen Phillips said...

Hey Bob, If you want an idea of the "unthinkable squalor" of the pork sausage production process, see the recent post "Pigs !" on the ongoing magic lantern show... also see e-mail, if not read already, hope you had some Black Forest Cherry cake for dessert along in there somewhere ! Soup to Nuts is again dense and delicious...