Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell
This was the July choice for our book group, which gave those who didn’t read the book time to watch the film instead. I managed to do both, and they are quite different animals…
Julie Powell and husband Eric hail from Texas. They live in New York where Julie works as a secretary in the government agency managing Ground Zero. Looking for a focus for her spare time, Julie borrows a classic cookbook from her mother and its on the idea of cooking all the in it in one year. The book is about classic French cooking by noted 1960s American chef Julia Child. So the Julie and Julia project is born when Eric suggests she blog about it.
Rather than mix and match recipes, Julie starts at the beginning and works through chapter by chapter, foodstuff by foodstuff. Soups are first …
The first thing you learn about Potage Parmentier is that ‘simple’ is not exactly the same as ‘easy’. It had never occurred to me that there was a difference until Eric and I sat down on our couch the night of my appointment at the gynecologist’s, three months after stealing my mother’s forty-year old cookbook, and took our first slurps of Julia Child’s potato soup.
Despite being whiny, needy and swearing too much, Julie manages to build up a loyal readership on the blog, and she does become totally obsessed by the project, even managing to eat eggs, make aspics, and killing lobsters …
I confessed to Eric as we sat down to our Homard aux Aromates that cutting lobsters in half was beginning to prove eerily satisfying. “I just feel like I’ve got a knack for this shit.”
Eric looked at me, and I could see him wondering where was the finicky, soft-hearted young girl he had married. “By the end of this you’ll be comfortable filleting puppies.”
Overall, the book was a decent if uninspiring read. I didn’t warm to Julie much at all, and not being American, I didn’t know Julia Child. There are a few vignettes about Julia’s life as imagined by Julie between sections, but from reading this book alone, she would remain a mystery to me as a person – there is too much Julie and not enough Julia in the book. I sort of imagined Julia as an American version of veteran British cook Marguerite Patten combined with a dash of Delia Smith – we only have the picture of Meryl Streep as Julia in the movie to go on …
The film redresses the balance. I watched the movie after I finished the book, and it was a treat from start to finish. Screen-time is split between the two Js. Meryl Streep was marvelous as the big-boned and big-hearted Julia, and Amy Adams is sweet and chirpy as Julie – not at all as I imagined – but then it does have Nora ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ Ephron at the helm.
The biggest bonus of the film though is Stanley Tucci as Julia’s husband Paul; ever since I first encountered him as a villain in the TV series Murder One  I’ve been a fan, and he can do light and fun as well as playing baddies. The film is slightly long, but is entertaining and fun, and Streep is a tour de force totally getting into her character. The film fills in much of the detail I’d have liked in the book about Julia’s life, from meeting Paul, to being the first woman to learn French cooking at the Cordon Bleu school, and eventually publishing the book ‘Mastering the art of French Cooking’ with her French collaborators. The film also contrasts the two couples – Julie and Eric – the childhood sweethearts that need something else in their slightly fragile relationship, and the couple who meet a bit later but are totally and solidly in love.
My verdict: Book – 6.5/10 Film – 8/10
As for our book group – we all concurred about the book, and were slightly shocked to find out that Powell has written another volume of memoir now in which she and Eric have affairs, she runs off to learn butchery, but that they’re still apparently together. It’s called Cleaving but I don’t think I’ll bother with it!
For our book group choice next month, we’re reading another book of memoir that came from a blog: The Intimate Adventures Of A London Call Girl by Belle Du Jour. Will two consecutive blog-memoirs be too much for us, or will the compare and contrast exercise be fun? Who knows – we’ll see next month.