Review first published 04/03/12
In 2002, Julie Powell was a secretary working for a US Government agency and approaching thirty years old. One day, she makes a monumental decision to find some personal meaning to her life through cooking her way through the whole of Julie Child’s book, “Mastering The Art Of French Cooking”, in the space of one year.
As I mentioned in my previous book haul posting, I have a fondness for the film “Julie & Julia”. Yes… as a man, this could be classed as a “guilty pleasure” film to admit to liking (as much as I love “The Holiday” or “Love Actually”).
Due to my fondness for the film version of “Julie & Julia” and previously reading Jael McHenry’s “The Kitchen Daughter”, I decided to purchase this book (also known as “Julie & Julia: My Year Of Cooking Dangerously” which does sound like a more entertaining title, I must admit).
For those people who haven’t read this book and expect to “hear” the fruity tones of Meryl Streep’s portrayal as Julia Child or the sanitised version of Julie Powell as portrayed by Amy Adams, you may be in for a disappointment or two.
With regard to Julia, she doesn’t figure largely in herself within the book apart from some dramatised accounts of incidents based on letters between Paul Child and his brother Charlie. (The author openly states this in her acknowledgements towards the end of the book). However, and I’m saying this purely as somebody who has seen the film and some YouTube footage of Julia, you do get a sense of Julia’s “presence” as Julie Powell carries out this mammoth undertaking.
The book version of Julie Powell is markedly different to Amy Adams’ portrayal of her. The film version has to be film friendly, certainly to the predominantly female demographic at which the film was marketed. The book version can come across as a person who you will either like or dislike (I am choosing my words carefully at this point as it’s not right to say “hate”). “Book Julie” is a character of strong emotions and blunt honesty, particularly about herself. On the one hand, she appears to be a person who is modest, sees herself as not being fit to sit in Julia’s shadow and even, at some points in the book, a bit of a failure. On the other hand, she appears to be a raving egomaniac and, in some respects, an unlikeable person who is all “me, me, me” at the expense of her family, friends and her own wellbeing just so she can get some attention through the devotion of “bleaders” (her blog followers), complete the challenge she has taken on and, when the media come calling, grab her fifteen minutes of fame. To put in my two-penneth, she doesn’t come as either by the end of the book. She comes over as a human being with the same thoughts, insecurities, hopes and ambitions that we all do, albeit magnified by putting her life on display through e-media and on print.
Going back to the point of Ms Powell being blunt, she is a lady of strong, honest, even controversial, opinion and anecdote. She discusses the fact that she doesn’t like her job and the day-to-day challenges of it, sex, her biological clock, her relationship with her husband and her friends’ relationships, the modern day phenomenon of blogging and the “cult of celebrity”, and her own kitchen meltdowns.
Another thing that people who enjoyed the film may not be prepared for is that “Book Julie” is very handy with the industrial language throughout, so be prepared for the F-word on quite a few occasions.
Fans of the film will recognise some of the anecdotes within the book, including the Boeuf Bourginon and “Lobster Killer, Lobster Killer, Lobster Killer…” incidents. However, there are other anecdotes within the film which are either in different places than you expect or are composites of those found in the book, such as, for example, the “Julia hates me” incident.
I have to admit that I found the first half of the book heavy going as the earlier chapters jump around Julie’s personal timeline to provide a background to her character alongside the main storyline. In fact, I was ready to chuck it in just about the point when Julie has her trauma with aspics. Bizarrely though, a parallel happened at this stage. As Julie’s bleaders were telling her to carry on or forget about aspics, people who have become my friends through blogging and Goodreads said that I should persevere. Without wishing to sound egotistical, a case of life imitating art. (Thank you to my online friends who suggested that I kept going – to stop would have felt like cheating my Reading Challenge).
I’m glad that I was persuaded to carry on as it would have robbed me of a pleasurable read about a person who simply wants to make some sense of her life. Don’t think of this as a book about cooking, but a book about life in which cooking features.
Further information about Julie Powell and her books, “Julie & Julia” and “Cleaving”, can be found at her website juliepowellbooks.com.