From the Booker Prize-nominated author comes a new novel about a legendary French female chef—the facts her life, the nearly ineffable qualities of her cooking, and the obsessive, sometimes destructive desire for purity of taste and experience that shaped her life.
a sensual portrayal of the indispensable place of talented cooks in the world of the French bourgeoisie. NDiaye’s heroine doesn’t wield overt power over this class, but instead commits herself to delivering savory before sugar, invention and technique before pleasure.
Writing against cliché—e.g., cooking is a site of carnage, not delight—is vital to NDiaye’s novels. Borrowing from Freud, supernatural thriller, and family saga, her work is famously difficult to classify ... Reading NDiaye is akin to coming across a previous patient’s psychological assessment on your therapist’s desk; you’re hopelessly drawn in, even as you ought to look away ... In The Cheffe...it is the narrator’s unreliability,...that generates NDiaye’s characteristic mystery and menace ... It is typical of NDiaye to transform bourgeois pleasures—French cuisine, tropical vacations, interior design—into discomfiting forms of mild torture ... At end, there are those who will complain that NDiaye’s work is 'too challenging' to enjoy. But novels that go down easy come with hazards of their own: as our narrator warns, 'you don’t feel respected as a customer and an eater, you feel ashamed for the cook.'
Marie NDiaye is so intelligent, so composed, so good, that any description of her work feels like an understatement ... On first read, I was disappointed with The Cheffe. Compared to NDiaye’s other great novels, The Cheffe feels a little simple: it’s the story of a man’s infatuation with his former boss. It’s far more coherent in style and content than NDiaye’s previous works, plays less with genre, lacks the strange plasticity that makes reading her books something like handing over your ticket at the entrance of a haunted house. And yet, as I thought about and reread NDiaye’s mirror-smooth prose, I wondered: What am I not seeing? ... NDiaye illustrates the class dynamics of the kitchen: who sips from a spoon and who wields a knife ... Translator Jordan Stump...has done a wonderful job here ... as often happens in NDiaye’s work, the violence of the past is merely punted to the next generation. For now, they may still hope to do things differently.