A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig is a collection of food-related essays from the early 19th century, with a humorous bent. They're but a few pages each - a light read to bring a smile to your face, then on to the next little foodie treat.
Charles Lamb's writing is playful and amusing. He'll have you chuckling away at his creation myth for the titular roast pig, then set your mouth watering with an enticing description of its succulence. It's not quite all-out food porn, but I would quite like some crackling, even though I'm full right now. Food might be the broad umbrella under which all his essays find themselves, but there's nothing samey about any of the offerings, whether it be the hungry chimney sweeps, metaphors of London fogs as food, or a pun-heavy conceit of the days of the year all coming to a feast.
The only possible criticism is one that often applies to collections of essays or short stories: that it's all very well done and a pleasant read, but it's never quite substantial enough to really get your teeth into. Each piece does everything they set out to do - they're clever, engaging and evocative - but they're not so roaringly funny that you'll grab the nearest person and insist they read it, or delve into deep deep food fantasies. There's a sense of Very good. Next? Wonderful as a light snack, but lacking slightly as a main meal.
Beyond the format (and that's not something that you'd want to change anyway), there's nothing to knock in 'A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig. It speaks to a modern audience as much as it did to its 19th century audience. Such is the quality of the writing that there's little to date it; it's as sparkling as it ever was. Timeless humour is particularly difficult to achieve, and this is greatly to Lamb's credit.
If you're looking for a high quality yet relaxed read, with humour and food woven together, then A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig is an excellent choice. You might not head back for leftovers the next day, but that's by no means the end of the world. Warmly recommended.
My thanks to the publishers for sending it to Bookbag.
For other light reads, check out our Top Ten Tube Reads. We're loving everything in Penguin's Great Food series, including Great Food: A Taste of the Sun by Elizabeth David and Great Food: Buffalo Cake and Indian Pudding by Dr A W Chase.
You can read more book reviews or buy Great Food: A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig and Other Essays by Charles Lamb at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Great Food: A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig and Other Essays by Charles Lamb at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.
Charles Lamb grew up in downtown London and went to school at Christ’s Hospital where he first met lifelong friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He served in various office positions as the needs of his family required, and at age 24, with the death of his father, was placed in charge of all the family’s needs. He published his first poems in 1796 in a Coleridge collection, and published various works through the early years of the 19th century, when he had his first break with Tales of Shakespeare (1807), a joint project with his sister Mary. By this time he had gained a footing in London’s literary elite circle and had become friends with William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, William Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, and others. All his adult life he wrote for periodicals in England, particularly London Magazine, and covered everything from dreams, religion, and politics, to marriage, food, and love. Before he died he published Essays of Elia (1823), and Final Essays of Elia (1833), both collections of his contributions to London Magazine.