We’re in France at the brink of the revolution. A sinister, Hannibal-Lecter-like character rumoured to be devouring everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, including forks, rats and babies, is imprisoned in a monastery. Sister Perpetue has the unenviable task of guarding him. But who is this mysterious Tarare and what is his story? The Glutton by A.K. Blakemore is one the better books I’ve read this year. A brutal story of poverty, survival and class, set against the backdrop of revolutionary France and written by a hugely talented young author. Go get it.
The very moment Tarare is born, his father is bludgeoned to death in a pub brawl. Hence starts a life of continuous bad luck. His loving but hapless mum becomes an easy target for abusers and Tarare the victim of a violent step-father and a duplicitous friend. Forced to flee home, he takes up with a travelling band of con-men (not that he has a choice) and join their rampage through the French countryside in search of people to deceive and rob.
Tarare has a rare ‘talent’: he has an insatiable appetite and will eat anything. A living freak-show, the leader of the group realises, and, conveniently, an opportunity to make money.
As a protagonist, Tarare evokes mixed feelings. On the one hand we can’t help but empathise with his bad luck and hunger which comes to symbolise all of France’s misery. Yet some of the things he does are so revolting you just have to look away.
Blakemore’s writing is nothing short of superb. Her award-winning skills as a poet shines through in beautifully crafted imagery and succinct writing. Unlike so many books these days, no editing is needed here. I’m already looking forward to her next.
The Glutton by A.K. Blakemore is published by Granta Books, 336 pages.