That said, if you're looking for a plot driven novel this is not it. If you like an essayistic tone and a lot of differing perspectives on the idea of food and its relation to comfort, civilization, and literary inspiration, then you may enjoy it. Also, much of the book is recipes - actual historical recipes from Dickens, Colette, Hannah Grasse and more. So, if you like reading recipes -- and I mean reading them, picturing the process of making them and imagining the results -- you will find much more depth to the book. If you tend to skip over recipes in books then this one will probably annoy somewhat, as at least a quarter of the book is in recipe format. I personally love reading recipes like novels (which could explain my 80+ cookbook collection) so I found this part of it vastly entertaining even though I have no intention to ever make any of them. There are also many tidbits about literary figures thrown in; one I found intriguing was a mention of Zola - in 1862 he found a job working in the shipping department of Hachette publishers! ;)
I enjoyed her writing style and the collage effect of all the different techniques employed in telling this tale. Deval herself provides some insight into her approach in a couple of quotes from various places in the book; together they give us some indication that this structure is something she worked at quite deliberately:
A writer cannot create great works by writing to formula. Likewise, the best cooks are the ones who put something of themselves into the endeavor, not merely follow a set of instructions. Cooking and writing -- for Pomme believes that of all the arts, these are the closest allies -- when done with intent to achieve perfection, are demanding and very personal forms of work...
What Pomme wants her students to understand is that whether one's choice of artistic expression lies in literature or cookery, there's no point in doing either unless the creation is the best possible, the most deeply satisfying experience first for the artist and then for others, the thrill of creation born as much from the process as from the result. The pleasure a cook takes in composing a soufflé that holds its delicate, airy form is akin to what a writer feels when he has written the perfect story, or novel, or poem, knowing that it's good, very good, and couldn't be made better. ...
Room exists in the world for all sorts of bouillabaisse. Serious cooks must not close their minds to other ways of seeing and sensing and tasting. Acknowledge the artistry of another cook. You may become better for your willingness to learn.
I think if this book would have been published today it would have garnered much more attention, as the reading public is possibly more attuned to this kind of genre-less cut and paste style of fiction than it was in the early 90s. Web reading has perhaps accustomed us to following something through even without a strong narrative thread. In any case, I found this to be a very enjoyable, intelligent read. Definitely for anyone with an interest in food writing, or in literary feasts, or in a creative use of fictional style. I'll be rereading this at some point, I know.