cover image Chez Moi

Chez Moi

Agnes Desarthe, , trans. from the French by Adriana Hunter. . Penguin, $14 (257pp) ISBN 978-0-14-311323-2

As the self-proclaimed “biggest fucker-upper the world has ever brought forth,” Myriam, 43, is an unlikely restaurateur, but her headlong, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink narration soon makes clear that she's got little left to lose in changing her life. With a past that she reveals only slowly and a stint cooking for a circus under her belt, Myriam fakes some cooking and management diplomas, takes out some loans and opens Chez moi, a tiny 25-seat Parisian eatery in which she also sleeps and bathes. With help from Vincent, the halitosis-afflicted owner of the flower shop next door; from Ben, a gangling, knock-kneed lad who shows up with a solid business plan and ideas for marketing and publicity; and from Ali Slimane, an elegant farmer with perfect meats and produce, Myriam's restaurant begins to flourish—which terrifies her. This lovely book is a cassoulet bulging with lush, delectable descriptions of cuisine and straight-shooting observations on life. Myriam's restaurant has as much to do with improvising ways of living, loving and finding one's way home again as with eating well. It's a frothy, complex pleasure to linger there with her. (May)