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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Gourmet Club

Tanizaki Jun'ichirō

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To purchase The Gourmet Club

Title: The Gourmet Club
Author: Tanizaki Jun'ichirō
Genre: Stories
Written: 1911-1955 (Eng. 2001)
Length: 177 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Gourmet Club - US
The Gourmet Club - UK
The Gourmet Club - Canada
  • A Sextet
  • Translated by Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy
  • With an Introduction by Paul McCarthy

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Our Assessment:

B+ : surprisingly risqué, and some very fine pieces here

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . Fall/2001 Robert Polito
The Japan Times . 10/6/2001 Donald Richie
The NY Times Book Rev. . 19/8/2001 Janice P. Nimura

  From the Reviews:
  • "The final three stories in the sextet find Tanizaki back in mature, outrageous form. That he is one of the great comic writers of the century is not well-known abroad, since the great comic stories have not been hitherto translated. Here, however, is proof. (...) One of the joys of reading Tanizaki is that while the most basic of human passions are fully explored, this is done with an honesty and a delicacy not often associated with such subject matter. As one’s own worse nature threatens to be revolted, one’s better is melted by the beauty of the observation." - Donald Richie, The Japan Times

  • "The words "strange" and "curious" recur throughout Anthony H. Chambers's and Paul McCarthy's smooth translations, and not by accident. "Strange" can mean new and unfamiliar, but also weird, disturbing; "curious" can mean intrigued, but also peculiar. The enduring fascination of much of Tanizaki's writing lies in these double meanings. Tanizaki insisted that a good piece of fiction had to seduce the reader almost against his will. In these stories, as in much of his work, an occasional frisson of repulsion is closely followed by the compulsion to read on." - Janice P. Nimura, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Gourmet Club collects six of Tanizaki's stories, mostly from early in his career (two from 1911, three from 1918-1926) but also the late (1955) 'Manganese Dioxide Dreams'. Translator Paul McCarthy calls them: "broadly representative" in his Introduction, and that's probably the best one can hope for with a sampling of this size (now also complemented by the companion volume, Red Roofs & Other Stories -- though we're still a terribly long way from anything like a proper overview in English of the prolific author's work).
       The opening, and earliest story, 'The Children' (少年, 1911) is an unsettling start, a tale dripping with fin de siècle decadence (and, by the end, candle wax ...) -- but its protagonists young children. The narrator, Hagiwara Eichan, is now adult, but reminisces about events from two decades earlier, when he was ten. Among his classmates was the pampered Shin'ichi, "a mollycoddle" still accompanied everywhere -- even on the school playground -- by a housemaid. When Shin'ichi invites Hagiwara to a party at his family's estate, a whole new world and perspective is opened to him. The one other classmate there is the bully Senkichi, and Hagiwara is stunned by the role reversal in the games they play -- though Shin'ichi and Senkichi are apparently old playmates, and used to them. Hagiwara can't believe the abuse Senkichi willingly takes from Shin'ichi, but finds himself enjoying partaking in these games -- "before I knew it I was enjoying being turned, body and soul, into Shin'ichi's puppet" -- while worrying about: "the retribution that would come at school tomorrow".
       Roles do revert in the schoolyard, but there's no retribution. What happens at Shin'ichi's is a separate universe from school -- and one that Hagiwara is now regularly invited to join in.
       Shin'ichi also has a sister, who is dragged -- largely willingly -- into the games, and is the main victim. But eventually she turns the tables on the boys, finding her own secret power to bend them to her will -- as strong and domineering as her brother's.
       With its sexual overtones and excesses of ritual humiliation and degradation, 'The Children' is an uncomfortable -- and in part even shocking -- tale that effectively uses what's left of childish innocence for effect.
       'The Secret' (秘密, 1911) is narrated by a man turning away from everything and everyone he knows in search of novelty. He admits that his nerves:

responded only to the most vivid, full-bodied stimuli. I could no longer enjoy first-rate art or food that required a delicate sensibility. I felt too jaded to respond to the ordinary urban pleasures
       He retreats to a Tokyo monastery - but not for the usual reflective withdrawal. he drinks, and ventures out at night -- and, eventually, does so dressed up as a woman. Dressed up like that, he encounters an old flame -- who outshines him in her (true) female beauty, leading him to find that:
Defeated as a woman, I wanted to win her over again as a man, and to revel in the victory.
       They do initiate a relationship again -- but she also keeps a secret, insisting that he only visit her blindfolded, so that he doesn't know where she lives. (She arranges to have him picked up and dropped off for their rendezvous.) Curiosity wins out eventually of course -- with the expected results:
     Two or three days later I left the monastery and moved to Tabata. The satisfactions to be gained from "secrets" were now too bland and psllid for me.
       'The Two Acolytes' (二人の稚児, 1918) is about two youngsters who have spent almost their entire lives in the Mt.Hiei Buddhist monastery, "where no women were permitted access". It's a nice fantasy-world , of course -- "According to their Master, the world outside was nothing but delusion" -- but they are naturally still a bit curious about: "the perilous outside world of passion and pain" -- and especially about these unimaginable beings, 'women'. One ventures out into the world, and the other stays behind -- not knowing what became of his friend, and then unsettled by the report he eventually does get from him, claiming: "the outside world is not a dream, not an illusion. It's a sheer delight -- in fact a paradise". The mixed messages further confuse and torment the young man, and complicate his spiritual (and physical) path.
       The title story (美食倶楽部, 1919) again features men who look for the ultimate experience for their senses, "a collection of idlers with no occupation apart from gambling, buying women, and eating fine food." They're particularly particular about their food, constantly on the look-out for new tastes and sensations. The de facto head of the five-man Gourmet Club is the Count, and the picture of his ideal sums up their desires:
Food whose flavors would make the flesh melt and raise the soul to the heavens. Food like music that, once heard, would make men dance madly, dance themselves to death. Food one just had to eat, and the more one ate the more the unbearably delicious flavors would entwine themselves around the tongue until at last one's stomach burst.
       The little society almost despairs, having tried every restaurant and variation -- but then the Count comes across a secretive Chinese group where he see the most delicious-looking food being served, and he manages to copy their secrets, allowing him to serve his fellow gourmands the most sensational foods.
       Tanizaki does offer a vivid picture of the fabulous meal the Count intrudes upon -- but even he understands that to fully evoke the foods he must leave it to the reader's imagination, pulling back rather than trying to describe the indescribable: "I regret to say I cannot record the naked facts of what went on that night", because to do so would be to reveal too much, deflating the story. He does allow himself some description of the Count's copied dishes, and the names of a few others -- but: "no more than a peek at a small part of Count G.'s repertoire", trying the balancing act between description and leaving enough to the reader's imagination. It mostly works, and much here is sensational but the story can at times feel over-explained.
       'Mr. Bluemound' (青塚氏の話, 1926) is a story within a story, a young actress, Yurako, having lost her twenty-nine year-old film-director husband, Nakada, the man who discovered her and made her career, to tuberculosis -- and then finding a 'will' he left her, a long testament (presented in full then) in which he explains the experience he had that he believes undid him.
       The document reveals that he met a man at a café who turns out to be an obsessive fan of Yurako's -- and who took that obsession to disturbing extremes. The man knows almost everything about her -- and shows a fascination and appreciation for her (and her body-parts ...) that even her husband can barely match. He even convinces Nakada to come home with him, to see his own 'Yurako' -- which turns out to be quite more than anything Nakada could have imagined .....
       Finally, 'Manganese Dioxide Dreams' (過酸化満俺水の夢, 1955) is a more straightforward personal account, the narrator essentially Tanizaki himself, visiting Tokyo, describing -- at considerable length -- the film, Les Diaboliques, and his dreams. In keeping with the previous stories, there are dark and risqué elements here too -- albeit of a more obvious, personal nature. With the narrator so obviously Tanizaki himself, it does feel a bit of an odd-story-out beside the others.
       The Gourmet Club does not shy away from shock value, and Tanizaki indulges in descriptions of the intimate and sensational -- evocatively, but arguably occasionally too vividly and directly (the last two stories both feature rather too graphic mentions of fecal matter). Common to the stories are characters who need more stimulation than the everyday world -- even at its extremes -- can provide, and who are driven in their desperate search to the outrageous and/or shocking. There's more to the story than pure shock-value too, but that's certainly their key -- and one Tanizaki wields well
       Strikingly modern in some ways, this isn't demure Japan on display -- though Japanese reserve and manners helpfully add to the effect. This is a strong collection, of memorable tales -- with some quite disturbing elements.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 September 2017

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The Gourmet Club: Reviews: Tanizaki Jun'ichirō: Other books by Tanizaki Jun'ichirō under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Tanizaki Jun'ichirō (谷崎 潤一郎) lived 1886 to 1965.

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