'She's a vegetarian. He's a carnivore. Will it be a table for one?'
It's always a great feeling when your passions align. For those who don't already know, my background is in English and French literature/language - my degree for four years between 2010-2014. Before cooking and blogging, there was reading and writing. Now all these elements co-exist in my world.
When I was asked to review the novel, The Green and the Red, there was no way to contain my excitement. The book is written by French author and journalist, Armand Chauvel, and translated into English by Elisabeth Lyman. It features a vegetarian protagonist named Léa who is a chef struggling to keep her restaurant, La Dame Verte, going in the small town of Rennes in Brittany. Thrown into the mix is Mathieu, a marketing director at one of the biggest pork producers in town. In order to get his hands on the restaurant's real estate for a pork museum project, he poses as a vegetarian to gather relevant financial information from Léa.
The novel adheres to the romantic novel genre with its tale of the unlikely attraction between Léa and Mathieu, and the many obstacles (often comical and entertaining) that continuously crop up to deter their union. What saves the novel from merely being another generic chick-lit, however, is its intelligent and thoughtful treatment of animal rights, agriculture and human motivations for dietary choices, all of which simultaneously propel the novel into the eco-literature genre. These issues are imaginatively woven into the novel via the conversations that take place between characters, and so the facts are presented in easily digestible bites. With such a heavy and controversial subject matter, one would have understood if the novel took on an overbearing, moralistic tone. But Chauvel succeeds in softening the didacticism by presenting important ethical issues in a light-hearted context.
There's something for everyone in this novel. Both vegetarians/vegans and meat-eaters are shown at their best and at their worst, no one gets off easy and as a result, there are several hilarious moments to make you laugh out loud or roll your eyes as you relate to one character or another. On the one hand, for example, the character Pervenche (Léa's outspoken, passive-aggressive sous-chef) represents the extremist, intolerant side that can rear its head in the vegan movement. On the other, we have Mathieu's boss, Auguste Nedelec, who is a hyperbolic caricature of a vegetarian-hating omnivore. In the end, the message is clear that both sides have a lot to learn from each other when it comes to living and acting in tolerance.
Now, how can I write about this novel without bringing up the FOOD! Léa's passion for plant-based cuisine and experimentation leap off the pages - from her quest to 'veganise' foie gras to her mouth-watering creations such as pumpkin wonton soup and flourless chocolate cake. I'm yet to find a literary character that I relate to so much on a foodie level. The culinary descriptions are a delight to the senses, adding to the charm of the novel as a whole.
If you're after a light read that combines romance, food and contemporary animal rights issues, then I suggest you give this novel a try. Elisabeth Lyman does a great job at bringing the story to life for the English-speaking audience, making the story flow effortlessly and capturing the nuances of French culture and language. The way I see it, the future is bright for eco-literature and its potential to reach the minds and hearts of readers; I am excited to see how the genre evolves!