Mayle's deja vu: French frolicking and feasting

June 09, 1996|By CHRIS KRIDLER | CHRIS KRIDLER,SUN STAFF

"Anything Considered" by Peter Mayle. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 303 pages. $23. Peter Mayle has long charmed readers with his books celebrating food and fun in France, including "A Year in Provence," and his new novel keeps up his Francophile frolics.

"Anything Considered" is a feast and a farce, a story about a caper served with plenty of bread, cheese, wine and - let's not forget it - truffles, that expensive French delicacy that is the pivot upon which the plot turns.

Truffles, you see, are notoriously difficult to grow. In fact, only a mere whimsy of nature produces these rare but prized fungi, so discovering a way to produce them reliably would be like finding a goose that lays golden eggs. There would be millions in it. And shady character Julian Poe is apparently in possession of the goose.

That's what our hero Bennett finds out, but not until long after he places an ad saying that he'll consider doing anything for money, barring marriage. He's a broke Englishman who loves his life in a little town in France and is unwilling to give it up despite hard times, so he takes Poe's offer to live temporarily in his Monaco apartment and impersonate him - all for tax purposes, nudge nudge, wink wink.

Knots and tangles soon ensue, and Bennett ends up in a roundabout chase with Poe, the French government, the Monaco police, irate Corsicans, wine-swilling monks and Italian mobsters. He also is occasionally entangled with younger women who are model-beautiful (in books like this, they always are), and as a confirmed bachelor, he feels awkward when he finally gets close to one of them: "A tension had developed between them that hadn't been there before, a nervous anticipation of what might or might not come next. A Frenchman or an Italian would have made a pass. Bennett made toast."

Mayle's breezy, funny story is a delightful mess, a lark that's perfect for summer reading. And for making you hungry. Have a baguette or two on hand. Here's just one course in a stellar meal: "Warm, fresh asparagus, green and violet, bathed in a delicate emulsion of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, a work of art on a plate, every last drop of juice to be mopped up with bread that reminded Bennett of the revelation of his first true French loaf, many years before. There is nothing quite like the taste of nostaligia, he thought."

If you've been to France, Mayle will take you back there; if you haven't, he'll make you want to go. But if you do, you'll have to work hard to re-create the pleasures of the frivolous but engaging "Anything Considered."

Chris Kridler is assistant arts and entertainment editor at The Sun. Her work has appeared in The Sun, the Miami Herald, Premiere, bOING bOING, Indie File, the Charlotte Observer and the Charlotte Poetry Review.

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