Wednesday, June 20, 2007



I have just finished a highly praised graphic memoir Epileptic by David B. lent to me by my daughter. It was originally published in
France under the title ‘L’Asension du Haut-Mal’.

Born Pierre-Francois Beauchard, David B. grew up in a small town near Orleans. He was the middle son in a family of three children, and they all had a happy normal childhood until his older brother Jean-Christophe developed epilepsy at the age of eleven. . His brother’s condition had a profound effect on David and his whole family. In fact you could say that they were all suffering from epilepsy. The conventional medical treatments at the time failed to contain his brother’s illness, and desperate for a cure their parents dragged the children round France, from macrobiotic communes to acupuncturists, from Swedenborgian mediums to magnetic therapists. Each new ‘therapy’ was seized on with hope and a determination to follow it to the letter. The drawings are very dark, mysterious and sometimes violent. He depicts his brother’s illness as a Mayan-style dragon/snake which has him in its clutches and which must be fought to the death, and also as a mountain that Jean-Christophe has to climb He explores his family history and the profound effect the death of his grandfather had on himself and his mother. As the years go by and David grows up, he finds he cannot separate himself from his brother and his illness however hard he tries, and he starts really seeing the physical and mental toll that epilepsy has taken on Jean-Christophe, how he is now really intellectually damaged by the condition, bloated from medication, his body and head scarred from the numerous falls when he has seizures.

I found the whole book a disturbing read, and was often tempted to turn two or three pages at a time to avoid some of the images, if this were the first graphic novel I had read, I might well have been discouraged from reading any others as it is very dark and at times depressing. However it did make me think hard about how a whole family suffers when one member has a serious illness, and the way that siblings of a sick child are frequently sidelined by parents who are stretched to breaking point coping with the situation. The book also made me much more aware of the stigmatism of epilepsy, the lack of public awareness or understanding - attitudes which I suspect are much the same now as they were when David B. was growing up.

Critics of the "graphic novel" as a form of literature often imply that they are merely "comic books", a simplistic story with lots of pictures which just illustrate the words. In fact a true graphic novel (and there are many wonderful ones, Maus by Art Spiegelman and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi to name but two) does much more than that. The emotions and ideas of the writer/artist are often expressed visually and not in the text, so everything melds together melds together to provide something that is more complete than either the words or pictures could do on their own.


Salman Rushdie is not my favourite author. He is not even on my top ten list of favourite authors. I have read three of his books, and each time I felt as though I was eating too much very rich fruitcake. The patterns of words got in between me and the story he was telling. Nevertheless, I believe that all authors should be free to write what they want in their fiction however much some people may dislike it, and I think Britain was absolutely correct to protect him against the fatwa issued against him when his book “The Satanic Verses” was published back in 1989. Most of the ‘outraged’ Muslims who indulged in book-burning and frenzied rhetoric at the time had never even read the damn book in the first place.

Now the whole bloody brouhaha has erupted again because Rushdie has been given a knighthood in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours. Pakistan’s politicians and mullahs have been particularly vociferous; the Pakistani parliament passed a unanimous resolution deploring the honour as an insult to Muslims. The religious affairs minister, Mohammad Ejaz-ul-Haq, went even further. He is quoted as saying said: "The West always wonders about the root cause of terrorism. Such actions are the root cause of it. If someone commits suicide bombing to protect the honour of the Prophet Mohammed, his act is justified." What an appalling statement. This is near as dammit an incitement to murder British citizens.

We Britons are giving Pakistan some £480 million in Development Aid over the next 3 years. If their government don’t like us honouring one of our own citizens, and threaten us with terrorist acts, perhaps they would like to send the money back? If not, they should just stop this dangerous posturing, they are biting the hand that feeds them.


Yesterday I was reading something about ancient Rome and it got me thinking about what the Romans ate. After all, this was long before the discovery of the New World with all the fruits and vegetables that have come from there. So, no maize, no tomatoes, no potatoes....therefore no pizza toppings, tomato sauces, potato gnocci and probably no pasta either. What little I know of the Roman diet can be boiled down to half a dozen ingredients - spelt (grain and flour), honey, various herbs (mint being particularly popular), dormice(!!), and garum (a liquid made from fermenting fish heads and innards in water and vinegar).

I had de-frosted some lamb steaks for dinner and decided to experiment and attempt a dish that could have been eaten in Ancient Rome. Not having any garum, I decided that Thai Fish Sauce (Nam Pla) was probably the nearest modern equivalent. It was a great success, so without further ado Ladies and Gentlemen I give you:


4 lamb steaks – or 4 thick meaty lamb chops
2 tablespoons clear honey
2 tablespoons of fresh mint, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
Freshly ground black pepper

Mix the honey, fish sauce and fresh mint together, season with a good grinding of pepper (I did not use any salt as the fish sauce is quite salty enough). Place the steaks side by side in a shallow oven proof dish and brush half the honey mix over them. Turn them over and brush the remainder of the honey mix over the other side. You can now leave the steaks in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.

Pre-heat the oven to190°C. put the uncovered dish into the hot oven and cook for 10-15 minutes. Open the oven and turn the steaks then continue to cook for a further 10-15 mins. Remove from oven and serve on hot plates with vegetables of your choice, or with a mixed salad. (Last night we had these with fine green beans mixed with fresh broad beans, and some Jersey Royal new potatoes.)


1 comment:

Around My Kitchen Table said...

Another great read, RRR. I always have three or four books on the go at one time but my reading is not as erudite as yours! I'm just finishing The Life and Death of Lord Erroll (Errol Trzebinski)and re-reading D.H. Lawrence's The Lost Girl. I'm addicted to trashy novels and have just started Catch Me When I Fall (Nicci French).
The Rushdie thing is very depressing and illustrates how great the gulf between different cultures but it's a gulf we must somehow bridge if there's ever to be peace in the world.
As for your lamb chops, they looked delicious. Coincidentally I grilled some lamb chops for tea but just had them with the cliched mint - plus new potatoes and carrots from my brother's garden and carrots and peas.