Review: Mykle Hansen’s “Cannibal’s Guide for Ethical Living” is delicious satire in the truest sense of the word.

July 28, 2011 at 1:15 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing)

Mykle Hansen is a true master of satire, alongside the greats such as Swift and Twain. I have to say that. I’m afraid if I don’t, he’ll eat me. I might actually welcome that unfortunate occurrence however, because I’ve read his brilliant book “The Cannibal’s Guide to Ethical Living” and I have never been more convinced that there’s definitely a moral argument to be made for eating human flesh.

The book follows Louis, a disgraced world-class chef as he delivers a long and powerful monologue to his captured friend and colleague, the food critic Andre De Gustibus. Hansen’s prose flows off the page like an expertly delivered and well-acted one-man show. The authorial voice is so strong, so perfectly executed, and so hilariously unique that it’s difficult not to start reading the book aloud to yourself. This is a book that’s equally comfortable being read or performed.

The book is divided into chapters via the delivery of various dishes and courses to the poor captured Andre, as Louis tries to explain his position. As this is going on, Hansen cleverly reveals the history between these two men, and how they are inextricably linked through their love of cuisine. The clues are planted throughout the book, but the wonderful way in which the book finally reveals the full scope of the relationship between Andre and Louis is pure genius. As readers, we are also treated to a slightly more omniscient point of view than poor Andre, so we get to watch as the subtleties of his slowly crumbling life add up, and we get to experience the terror of Louis’s “business partner” Marco stalking the deck just above the pair, psychotic, deranged, dangerous and hungry for fillet of food critic.

The fictional aspects of the story aside, the book also reads as a classic argument style philosophical treatise, which is where it truly succeeds as satire. It’s easy to understand that a social debate is raging here, chopped up in the same pot as the carrots and potatoes of a rollicking great story. No heavy-handed thematic bashing here – instead Hansen willfully pulls us into a very likeable (but insane) character’s world and we’re forced to listen. As we do, we’re forced to also examine our eating habits, our place in the food chain, and most of all our socioeconomic status and how that affects who are the predators and who are the prey. Hansen also uses a number of very specific details that show a true understanding of the world and culture. The reader is given an interesting back-story for the inhabitants of the nearby island, a great number of excellent food and wine references, and of course a deep character mystery to study.

The writing is extremely strong, the plot manic and bizarre, and the characters likeable. Mykle Hansen at his best: This is grade A meat, right here. Highly recommended!

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