The Cheffe: A Cook’s Novel

Marie NDiaye, trans. from the French by Jordan Stump. Knopf, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-52047-4
The life and career of a majestically talented, intensely private master chef is narrated by her greatest admirer and loyal employee in NDiaye’s engrossing psychological novel (following My Heart Hemmed In). Born in the early 1950s in the southwestern French town of Sainte-Bazeille, to a large, poor family, the Cheffe leaves school at 14 to work as a maid for the Clapeaus, a wealthy older couple who “loved eating with a fervent, unrelenting love.” She finds her calling in replacing the Clapeaus’ vacationing cook and goes on to devote herself to cooking, moving through kitchens “with the kind of controlled, dynamic, galvanizing intentness that attracted miraculous ideas” and eventually opening her own award-winning restaurant. But this single-mindedness is also the source of painful lifelong conflict between the Cheffe and her only daughter, whom the narrator resents for what he sees as ingratitude. Deeply in love with the taciturn Cheffe, who makes him her confidante but doesn’t return his feelings, the narrator acknowledges his bias but insists on the accuracy of his insights. Like the Cheffe’s recipes, at first tantalizingly simple but eventually so austere they threaten to “tumble into fruitlessness” and become useless, the narrator’s efforts to describe the Cheffe’s mind and heart are both enthralling and fundamentally unreliable as a record of her life. Readers will be consumed by this tale of talent and obsession, even as the Cheffe herself remains both fascinating and mysterious. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 07/31/2019
Release date: 10/29/2019
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 978-0-525-52048-1
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