Warning: contains spoilers
There’s been a lot of buzzing and hashtagging of Julie & Julia on twitter of late and I couldn’t help but be intrigued, given I read Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously last year, and read her follow up Cleaving last month. Always keen to engage and align with other food obsessives, I looked forward to reading about her adventures.
I hadn’t heard of the book but was browsing a remainder book shop last year and spotted it. The cover roared chick lit but I read the blurb and bought it – the obsessive foodie nature of the project reeled me in. Julie Powell, desperate to escape the quotidian banalities of her job and life, started blogging a behemoth project, cooking her way through the entire of Julia Child’s tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. 536 recipes in 365 days and she had never eaten an egg. It seemed like the kind of overly ambitious, introspective project that I would find myself in. An indulgence, a divergence and a challenge.
I had heard of Julia Child but I didn’t know much. Despite basing her book on French cuisine, she doesn’t seem to be very well known this side of the pond. So, I picked up Julie Powell’s book about cooking through it, dived in and powered through it.
I could identify with the stresses and strains of unrealistic and to the outside observer pointless deadlines. I loved her geeky obsessions, and found her relationship with her husband and childhood sweetheart charming and endearing. It was self indulgent, as all of these books are, but with a happy ending, where she dragged herself from her circadian corporate nest and pursued a career in food, living happily ever after with her husband.
Seems too perfect? It was.
I picked up Cleaving, the follow up, in a local Oxfam over a month ago. I hadn’t heard about it and was surprised to see it. I was really curious about what had happened after that first book. Had she pursued food writing, and made a career of it? Had she another project?
In short, yes, she was now an apprentice butcher, and this was exciting, but the book was only half about this. The other half was about an obsessive affair with an old college friend, horribly depressing flings saturated in self loathing and otherwise destructive behaviour. I was surprised and in truth a little dismayed.
Genuinely, I am not one to judge but I did feel for her husband, he may never read this book, but everyone else surely will, and he will be horribly exposed. It seemed extremely selfish. I hoped that maybe it was a clever scheme to make more money. It was clear that the first book was too good to be true, at least in the long term, and for them I guess.
I really didn’t know what to make of this, it felt like it wasn’t what I had signed up for and was now spending a lot of time reading. I pursued it and Julie and I had a breakthrough of sorts half way through, when I started to feel empathy, or maybe sympathy. She had lost control and I think we can all relate to that to some extent. She was lost. It is an interesting read, but be prepared for graphic descriptions of the flesh, human and animal. And there’s no happy endings this time, perhaps it’s more realistic than the first book.
On to the film. How would Julie be portrayed? Why wasn’t Cleaving yet published in the US but is available here? Are they afraid that it will affect box office figures? The twitterati loved it and I was keen to see.
Sadly they stripped out most of Julie Powell’s geekiness and, for me, she was portrayed as a lot more mainstream than I gave her credit for. I found this slightly annoying, although I am sure that those that haven’t read the book won’t give a hoot. The real gem in the film and inspiration was Meryl Streep’s amazing performance as Julia Child. Stunning, engaging and entertaining. Never giving up and putting everything she had into writing her cookbook, rejected by publishers, going on for 8 years, relentlessly. Embarking on a new career late, at a time when she would have been thrust on the scrap heap as a childless woman in her forties. I would recommend that you go see it to see her alone. It’s unashamedly sentimental but I loved it for this.
I got a copy of Julia Child’s memoirs – My Life in France – at the screening and am looking forward to reading that. Now I just need to get my hands on a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I want to make that Boeuf Bourgignon!