I’m about 100 pages into Claire Messud’s book The Emperor’s Children, and I’m completely loving it, except for one nagging thing: All of the food mentioned sound completely unappetizing. To wit: “inky noodles,” “antennaed prawns,” “tough emu fillet,” and one particularly antiseptic-sounding hors d'oeuvre, a salad only recognizable by “the three emerging spears of well-oiled endive that stood guard over their huddled, intestinal beet-root and marinated onion core.” There are also characters who subsist on “cereal (Frosted Flakes and Golden Grahams), and toast with peanut butter, and macaroni and cheese from a box, of the chemically orange sort.” And of course, my favorite detestable dish, “bloodied polenta.”

M.F.K. Fisher she isn’t.