The Club of Angels

Unknown-1The Club of Angels
Luis Fernando Verissimo
© 1998
Translated from Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa
© 2001

Our most recent Christmas card revealed Bryan’s and my tendencies toward gluttony.

photo-11Each picture on the front of the card is of a delicious dish we enjoyed in 2013.  Highlights include #5: pebrots de Padrón from Tapas 24 in Barcelona; #8: double cheeseburger from Holeman & Finch at Turner Field in Atlanta; and #14: ramen ravioli at Yuji Ramen in New York.

I love delicious foods.  I dream about them.  I plan vacations around them (like visits to see my brother in New York to eat at Le Bernardin and Empanada Mama and Bouchon Bakery or trips to Charleston to eat at Husk and FIG).  Great meals make me ridiculously, deliriously happy.

So, as soon as I read this book’s blurb, I thought I might have something promising on my hands.  It begins: “Luis Fernando Verissimo’s The Club of Angels is an irresistible, enticing book about the sin of gluttony—as irresistible and enticing as the exquisite meals prepared within.”

The book is about a group of ten rich men, friends since childhood, who are in an extravagant supper club.  They call themselves “The Beef Stew Club” (after the first meal they enjoyed together—before their tastes developed and they became gastronomes).

For the past twenty-one years, the men have gotten together once a month (from March to December) to dine together, savoring huge, delicious meals accompanied by copious amounts of wine, cognac, and cigars.

When one of their members, Ramos, who was the heart of the group, dies of AIDS, the club plummets.  Dinners are no longer enjoyable events; they are miserable, full of arguments and bickering and drama.  The food is no longer inspiring.  The conversation is no longer stimulating.

But then, the club’s savior appears, as if by magic.  His name is Lucídio, and one of the founding members, Daniel, meets him at the wine shop.  Daniel immediately takes to him.  He is drawn in by Lucídio’s story of being one of only two non-Japanese members of a secret society that gathers once a year in Japan to eat fresh fugu.  Fugu (pufferfish) is a poisonous fish.  If it is not cut properly by a trained chef, then it will kill anyone who eats it in mere minutes.  It takes three years for a fugu chef to train, and the members of Lucídio’s secret society volunteer to eat the fresh fugu that the new chefs prepare for their final examinations.  Lucídio describes it as the ultimate gastronomic experience:

“. . . There is nothing in the world that compares to the taste of raw fugu, Daniel.  And the pleasure of eating fugu is tripled by the risk you run of dying.  The prospect of dying at any moment, in seconds, produces a chemical reaction that heightens the flavour of the fugu.  In Japan, anyone can eat fugu prepared by specialist chefs and with minimal risk.  But only in Kushimoto, once a year, can you eat fugu with a real possibility of not surviving the first mouthful.  There is no comparable gastronomic experience.”

When Daniel tells Lucídio about the supper club, Lucídio offers to cook for them.  Lucídio is a trained French chef, and Daniel sees Lucídio as exactly what The Beef Stew Club needs.  He ignores the obvious signs that Lucídio is not an innocent stranger.

Lucídio, of course, has other plans for the group.  As he cooks the members’ favorite meals (boeuf bourguignon, paella, duck à l’orange), the club members begin to die one by one.  But, even knowing their likely fates, like the members of Lucídio’s secret fugu society, the members of The Beef Stew Club begin to enjoy and savor the delicious meals even more.

Rating: 3.5/5  🍣

The Club of Angels is part mystery, part satire, part cautionary tale, part parable.  It pokes fun at rich, lazy foodies.  And, let’s be honest, it’s fun (and easy) to make fun of foodies.

The writing is witty and quirky:

“. . . It isn’t every day that we want to see a syrupy Van Gogh or hear a piquant fugue by Bach, or make love to a succulent woman, but every day we want to eat; hunger is the recurring desire, the only recurring desire, for sight, sound, sex and power all come to an end, but hunger goes on, and while one might weary of Ravel for ever, one could only ever weary of ravioli for, at most, a day.”  He might have said “Pachelbel” and “béchamel” rather than “Ravel” and “ravioli,” I’m quoting from memory.

It is short (a mere 135 pages) and delightful—a perfect read for a commute or a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Who should read it: Jeff (i.e., people who enjoy good food and good wine but don’t take themselves too seriously); Len (I have heard people compare this book to Too Loud a Solitude, which I recall is one of your favorites.  I think you would appreciate the writing, humor, and the pretentious references to King Lear).

One final thought: GIVEAWAY REMINDER!  If you haven’t entered the contest yet, don’t forget to do so here before January 15th!

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