Monday, 8 April 2013

Audiobook Review: JULIE & JULIA by Julie Powell

Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen

Title: Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen
Author: Julie Powell
Publisher: Hachette Audiobooks
Read: March 27 - April 8, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Nearing 30 and trapped in a dead-end secretarial job, Julie Powell reclaims her life by cooking every single recipe in Julia Child's legendary Mastering the Art of French Cooking in the span of one year. It's a hysterical, inconceivable redemptive journey - life rediscovered through aspics, calves' brains and crème brûlée.

The bestselling memoir that's "irresistible....A kind of Bridget Jones meets The French Chef" (Philadelphia Inquirer) is now a major motion picture directed by Nora Ephron, starring Amy Adams as Julie and Meryl Streep as Julia, the film Julie & Julia will be released by Sony Pictures on August 7, 2009.

My thoughts:

There is a lot of pressure when being asked to choose the next book to be read by all members of our bookclub– and after a run of rather depressing reads which saw our group’s alcohol consumption increase tenfold as we tried to drown our sorrowful reflections in cheap wine, this time the vote was unilaterally in favour of “something funny”. I googled “funny books” into my trusty computer, and perhaps it was the fact that it was just before dinner and my fridge was bare, that Julie Powell’s memoir stood out from the rest.

For those who have not read the book or seen the movie (which by the way I really liked): in her book “Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen” the author Julie Powell writes about her project which involved cooking all 524 recipes from Julia Child’s book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in one year – and writing a daily blog about her efforts, which propelled her to authordom and blogging fame. Why? Because at 29, Julie Powell feels like a failure, and blogging is the creative outlet she chooses to make her feel worthwhile and appreciated by her peers.

Being the intrepid commuter who frankly struggles at times to find enough hours in the day to read all the books I would like to, I ordered the audiobook version from the library and settled into what I hoped would be a funny mouth-watering exposé on delicious food and cooking disasters (being rather disaster prone in the kitchen myself). But I admit that after suffering my way through the first third of the book I almost gave up on it, only keeping going for the simple fact that I could not under any circumstances throw in the dishcloth on my own bookclub choice (even the excuse of “busy at work”, “long hours” or “suffering from the plague” would not get me out of this one). I hated it! As the narrative randomly skipped back and forth between Powell’s childhood (I still don’t really see the connection between her teenage sexual urges or her father’s dirty magazines and her cooking project) I almost preferred a boring silent drive to having to listen to another one of Julie Powell’s expletives (of which there are many) or rants.

However, as Powell focused more on her actual project and less on reflections of past sexual fantasies, the book improved and there were some genuinely funny, laugh-out-loud moments. Julie never denies that she may be somewhat self-centred and suffering from the terrible infliction of sewer-mouth (personally, I can handle swearing, but think that an excess of such does not make for better humour, just makes it sound cheap and nasty). I can accept that. Even the repeated saucepan-throwing and abuse of her long suffering husband can be understood on some level of female-solidarity (anyone who has ever suffered from the monthly hormonal mood swings women have to put up with will know never to attempt a complicated French recipe on those days). Once the book focused on the actual cooking and kitchen disasters I actually quite enjoyed it. I had hoped to see more passion about cooking and food in general from Julie, which would explain the rationale behind her strange project, but some of her descriptions did tickle the funny bone and kept me interested.

My biggest gripe with the audiobook at that stage was the narration. No offence, Julie, but there is a reason why some people make their careers as narrators and others don’t. This should serve as a lesson to other authors who are tempted to narrate their own books – being a good narrator is a gift just as writing a good novel cannot be accomplished by anyone. A good narrator will breathe life into the different characters, giving each a unique voice and drawing the listener into the story. “Julie and Julia” was not the worst narration I have ever listened to, but it wasn’t that far off. Perhaps it didn’t help that I had only just listened to two of the best audiobooks – in narration terms – a short while before, so the bar was set very high.

All in all, Julie & Julia had moments of enjoyment and laughter, even if the beginning nearly saw me fling the CD set out of the car window in despair. On some deep level I related to Julie’s feelings on the verge of turning 30 (what will she do just before the dreaded 40, or, God help us – 50?). Some cooking disasters were hilarious (and familiar –living in rural Australia I know all about flies!), some cringe-worthy, and some made just plainly turned my stomach. I am now very interested to see what others in our reading group thought – no doubt there will be more wine involved, and food (though I will not inflict my own cooking on anyone – I do value my friends too much for that), and hopefully many divided opinions which will make for a lively discussion.

I read this book as part of my 2013 Audiobook Challenge and the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge (humour).


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