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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Arnon Grunberg

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To purchase Amuse-Bouche

Title: Amuse-Bouche
Author: Arnon Grunberg
Genre: Stories
Written: (2001) (Eng. 2008)
Length: 254 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Amuse-Bouche - US
Amuse-Bouche - UK
Amuse-Bouche - Canada
Amuse-Bouche - India
  • Dutch title: Amuse-Gueule
  • Translated by Ron de Klerk and Lisa Friedman
  • With an Afterword by Frederik van der Kamp
  • Most of these pieces were originally written between 1991 and 1996

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Our Assessment:

B : a mixed bag, but an often amusing, varied selection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 20/3/2009 Boyd Tonkin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Deadpan, offbeat, quirkily comic but steeped in loneliness, these early stories and sketches by the leading Dutch writer (translated by Lisa Friedman and Ron de Klerk) add up to a portrait of the artist as a young vagabond and freeloader." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

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:

       As Frederik van der Kamp's Afterword explains, Amuse-Bouche collects pieces Arnon Grunberg largely wrote between 1991 and 1996. This includes the period when he wrote and published Blue Mondays, as well as moved to New York; a number of pieces are also adapted from a column he wrote for the NRC Handelsblad, 'Letter from America', describing his experiences in the US.
       Even the stories that don't deal with his American experiences are often personal and autobiographical, and a number present some stations from his early writing life.
       A slightly off-beat character, Grunberg acknowledges in 'Meeting with the Consul':

I can understand that I am probably not considered the best ambassador of Dutch culture.
       Forthright, willing to try most everything, he also comes across constantly as somewhat lost: typically, when there's a fire in his apartment building, all he thinks to take with him is a shawl, leaving him standing in the cold in his underwear and the shawl. Personal encounters, including attempts at hiring a cleaner for his apartment, also tend to be more surreal than anything else. Despite the occasional mention of a girlfriend, the first person protagonist is always a somewhat removed individual in any scene who doesn't seem to have any true connection to anyone. Even the consul he sees and shares beers with regularly is merely an object he observes and describes, rather than someone he really engages in conversation or is in any way friendly with. (In trying to demonstrate his social ineptness, Grunberg even stoops so low as to include an anecdote-story of being invited to a fancy apartment and inadvertently clogging up the toilet, with predictable results.)
       Occasionally the haplessness is done particularly well; in 'My Mother's Men' he tries to join the conversation:
     I barely managed to keep one conversation going. It was about haemorrhoids. My contribution was: 'Haemorrhoids are just like tonsils: you take them out with scissors.' Apparently my mother liked men with haemorrhoids (everyone looks for his own periphery). I was playing the role of my mother's son, but I'd had better days.
       Occasionally the scenes are very amusing, as when his Italian publisher sends over a photographer to take some pictures and he and Grunberg are definitely not on the same page as to what appropriate poses and pictures would be. "Yeah, that's how you should picture me, a walking refrigerator", Grunberg suggests -- but the photographer has his own ideas:
     'So you knew Sharon Tate ?' I asked while he was arranging my legs. I was thinking that it wasn't so bad as long as I could keep my pants on, and that I was just being childish. Maybe taking erotic pictures of writers was some kind of trend.
       The balance between the more creative stories and the foreigner-in-the-US experiences (complete with episodes of taking English language lessons and the like) isn't ideal -- a two-part split of the book (or, better yet, separate volumes ...) would have been better. Regardless, Amuse-Bouche is a quite mixed bag -- there are a few outright duds, but also enough to amuse, and there certainly is a good deal of variety on offer. It's a decent introduction to the author, but only shows off some of his talents; the more sustained efforts of his novels impress considerably more.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 September 2009

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Amuse-Bouche: Reviews: Arnon Grunberg: Other books by Arnon Grunberg under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Dutch literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Arnon Grunberg was born in 1971 and has won numerous literary prizes.

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© 2009-2023 the complete review

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