At the weekend, my attention was drawn to rugbymadgirl's blog that contained a rather amusing entry. Rugbymadgirl and I have been friends since we were 11, so I know that the rugby obsession is a relatively recent one, but no less intense for that. She's also a pretty fabulous photographer, as her website shows (and I'll get a link to that as soon as I can make my husband do it, hopeless Luddite that I am). Her aesthetic eye is not solely inspired by landscape; in this particular blog entry she'd been asked, if rugby players were items on an a la carte menu, what meal would you chose?
Now, rugby and myself are like fish and bicycles, but it occurred to me that you could do something similar with the work of favourite authors. If I could chose any three-course literary meal, what would it be?
For a starter I looked for something small, tangy and palate-tingling. I thought I had it with Penelope Fitzgerald, but small as her works are, they struck me as rather filling. Muriel Spark was next on my list, but there's a bitter aftertaste to her novellas that might spoil the rest of the meal. I eventually settled on W. Somerset Maugham, a great favourite of mine, although rather like a prawn cocktail nowadays, he's still tasty but out of fashion.
The main course turned out to be really tricky. I instantly thought of Julian Barnes; just the kind of punchy-flavoured but tantalisingly light dish I was hoping for, but then I worried that he might prove a little indigestible. Same problem with Ian McEwan. John Irving puts too much on your plate, while with Anita Brookner, the ingredients were exquisite but somewhat wilted. Now some authors I couldn't possibly eat: the mere thought of Joseph Conrad, Donna Tartt or Martin Amis left me a little queasy. And some you would approach at your own risk, for instance Salman Rushdie (surely the equivalent of literary vindaloo) and James Joyce (nasty accident with the liquidizer). British cuisine is so multi-cultural these days that it was no problem to search abroad for the solution, but I didn't do much better. I thought of Proust (not to be contemplated without the prospect of a lengthy siesta), Umberto Eco (death by carbohydrate) and Hemingway (a national dish, but inclined to be tough). Finally I came up with two possibilities – a serving of Margaret Atwood, or William Maxwell, both offering balanced meals of perfect nutrition.
As in life, so in literature: pudding seemed a bit easier. I instantly thought of P.G. Wodehouse, although it would be too insubstantial for some people's taste, and also E.F. Benson, whose witty creations, Mapp and Lucia offer a frothy concoction. But in the end I settled for Anne Tyler, knowing no other writer who could be so sweet without ever becoming sickly.
And if you were still hungry after that lot, you could finish off with some dark chocolate truffles, in the form of William Trevor's short stories, or risk cheese and crackers and a few nuts with the early works of Barbara Trapido.