For ten years, Hugo Whittier, upper-class scion, former gigolo, failed belle-lettrist has been living a hermit's existence at Waverly, his family's crumbling mansion overlooking the Hudson. He passes the time reading Montaigne and M.F.K. Fisher, cooking himself delicious meals, smoking an endless number of cigarettes, and nursing a grudge against the world. But his older brother, Dennis, has returned, in retreat from an unhappy marriage, and so has his estranged wife, Sonia, and their (she claims) daughter, Bellatrix, shattering Hugo's cherished solitude. He's also been told by a doctor that he has the rare Buerger's disease, which means that unless he stops smoking he will die--all the more reason for Hugo to light up, because his quarrel with life is bitter and an early death is a most attractive prospect.
As Hugo smokes and cooks and sexually schemes and pokes his perverse nose into other people's marriages and business, he records these events as well as his mordant, funny, gorgeously articulated personal history and his thoughts on life and mortality in a series of notebooks. His is one of the most perversely compelling literary personalities to inhabit a novel since John Lanchester's "The Debt to Pleasure," and his ancestors include the divinely cracked and eloquent narrators of the works of Nabokov. As snobbish and dislikable as Hugo is, his worldview is so enticingly conveyed that even the most resistant reader will be put under his spell. His insinuating voice gets into your head and under your skin in the most seductive way. And as he prepares what may be his final Christmas feast for family and friends, readers will have to ask, "Is this the end of Hugo?"
"TheEpicure's Lament" is a wry and witty novel about love and death and family, a major contribution to a vein of literature that the author Kate Christensen has dubbed "loser lit." It more than fulfills the bright promise of her lavishly praised previous two novels, and gives us an antihero for our time--hard to like, impossible to resist.