I ought to be writing about Thomas Pynchon. His gargantuan new novel. But I’ve lost confidence in Mr. Pynchon, who hasn’t written a good book since Gravity’s Rainbow, 33 years ago, and so I found I couldn’t force myself to read the whole of Against the Day: I couldn’t kid myself into believing that the 1,085th page would give me greater satisfaction than 238th. The novel seemed to me, as it did to other critics who slogged heroically through to the end, like a Pynchon parody. I quit, and picked up Kafka’s Soup instead; it’s brief and witty and also useful: pastiche with a purpose.
An ideal stocking-stuffer, Kafka’s Soup is a cookbook dressed up as a literary romp (or vice versa): 14 recipes presented in the voice of 14 different writers, from Homer to Irvine Welsh. If you ever wanted to taste Jane Austen’s Tarragon Eggs (a “delightful union”), or wondered how Proust would feel about tiramisu (a whiff of Amaretto di Saronno does the work of a madeleine), or how Graham Greene would prepare Vietnamese chicken (“Ritually I sliced the breasts into thin strips. The white flesh lay on the plate like a shredded contract … ”), Mark Crick’s pretty little book is just the ticket.
A photographer who lives in London, Mr. Crick is evidently a man of many talents: His recipes are both plausible and appetizing; his literary impersonations are all cleverly executed and, in patches, brilliant; and the illustrations (also by Mr. Crick) are playful pastiche, too. Mushroom Risotto à la John Steinbeck, for example, is illustrated by a sepia-tinted photograph of a farm worker’s hands cupping a small pile of dried porcini: Walker Evans meets Dean and DeLuca. Quick Miso Soup à la Franz Kafka gives Mr. Crick the opportunity to tip his hat to Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s Soup Cans. And for Rich Chocolate Cake à la Irvine Welsh, Mr. Crick supplies an etching—“After Hogarth”—of Glaswegian junkies lounging in the “shithole” they call home.
How does Mr. Crick imagine that a Scottish junkie checks to see if a cake is ready to come out of the oven? Syringe and needle, of course: “Nae problem, the needle is clean.” And how would Homer begin a recipe for rabbit stew? “Sing now, goddess, of the hunger of Peleus’ son, Achilles.” Can you picture Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in the kitchen? Mr. Crick can: “I put the squeeze on a lemon and it soon juiced. It was easy. It was much too easy …. ”
I wonder what he would have had Thomas Pynchon cook up. Millefeuille? With a pointillist illustration?
Adam Begley is the books editor of The Observer.