Review of My Last Supper

My Last Supper: One Meal, a Lifetime in the Making by Jay Rayner

My rating: 4.75 of 5 stars

I have been meaning to write my review of My Last Supper for the last few months. This innocent book was ‘forced’ upon me as our book club read for February. With chagrin, I admit that I had no idea who Jay Rayner -possibly for not being a dedicated follower of newspaper columns. At first blush, I was only marginally intrigued but somewhat put off by my colleagues’ ‘madulation’ for their favourite columnists. Something in this always makes me concerned about this parasocial sense of their connection to these authors.
So I entered into reading with the spirit of good comradeship of the club and willing to give anything suggested a try. Try as I might, though, I didn’t warm to this one. The writer came across as somewhat arrogant and certainly not making any expected attempt to connect with the reader. I attributed this to these pre-existing relationships with his readers and just couldn’t warm to him. I generally make a point of not reading background info on an author unknown to me until finishing the work and letting it stand on its own device. However, in this work, the author offered a curated selection of music to accompany his chapters, and he referred to the formation of his self-styled quartet. I ‘Spotified’ him, and sure enough, didn’t the Jay Rayner Quartet pop up, and so I did throw a bit of background listening into the read. Intriguing.
And so, I read on and lo and behold, I started to warm to Mr Rayner. His seeming arrogance gradually struck me as a less curated reflection of self. It is more no holds barred and more of honesty and genuineness – a ‘warts and all’ approach. In fact, there’s a sense of self-deprecation hidden (maybe not quite hidden that well) in his self-reflection that I grew to appreciate.
This book (although written by someone that I now know writes on food and gastronomy) is about self and how this may be reflected in eating choice – cue his more profound volume: A Greedy Man in a Hungry World. Rayner is a journalist – and I was very struck by his admission/description of his sense of journalistic necessity: not to just hook a reader, but to keep them reading all the way through and appreciate the totality of their exposition. He does this with aplomb.
Although some topics and revelations warrant deeper consideration on the reader’s part, this is possibly a lighter take on life (than some of his other books). This is not to say that this is superficial, far from it. It’s exploratory but definitely full of wonderful humour – despite subject matter which does spend a significant amount of time considering death and grief. However, like much of his work, I would contend that he approaches and discusses this in a remarkably healthy frame of reference.
Essentially Rayner’s My Last Supper involves his choice of contributions to various courses and does a deep dive into finding what makes that foodstuff interesting, intriguing, but most off: connected to his own life experience. He combines food with music that resonates with that choice or stage in life, as well as a recipe to try yourself. A brilliant recipe for engagement – as I discovered as I delved deeper into the experience. There’s much exotic here, but also basic, and the supper resulting is as unique as I now perceive Jay Rayner to be himself.
Being from away (i.e. Canada rather than Ireland and the UK), I also was not familiar with his mother. Claire Rayner is someone I now feel I know better through her son’s eyes.
There are specific incidents in the book (avoiding spoilers) that are half-explained, and at the time, the reader is left with outstanding questions. During my initial struggle, I was bothered by these, and they stuck with me as I sought out grounds to indite the author further. Then, eventually, I discovered that they were part of a larger master plan for the story. He had taken more care in building and scaffolding than I initially anticipated. He’s good. Very good. And this was why I came to truly appreciate this book. As you started reading this review (if you did at all) and wondered how the first bits speak relate to something, I gave a 5-star rating to (it’s actually 4.75 if Goodreads gave me more granularity) you must have appreciated that I would get here. The fact was I did gradually get a better sense of Mr Rayner through his own words and his own ability to keep me reading – whether it was through spite or savour.
I discovered an author/journalist with a unique talent, and I eagerly wanted to read more from and have subsequently – additional reviews to follow. I searched and found one of his earlier works through the nebulous online world we find ourselves in. Credit to him, Star Dust Falling (2002) is a superbly told piece of investigative journalism – and one of the few physical/tangible books I have read in a long time. (Note: I read this paperback edition when walking in the very bright sunshine as I have discovered I need that contrast to read a paperback novel – alas, these ageing eyes).
By the end of My Last Supper, I devoured this book with supreme pleasure, and it fed very nicely into Greedy Man, which I will review shortly. His writing is genuine and skillfully reveals his honest passions and feelings with writerly aplomb that draws in the reader and verges on the parasocial noted above.
Rayner challenges the reader to see things from various perspectives and from his own unique perspective, and as a good journalist should, provokes thought and rewards your attention. I am glad to have spent time with his creation and feel that I do have the slightest sense of coming to know him better and certainly thoroughly enjoyed his offering.

ps. The Jeff Goldblum callout on the cover is brilliant.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: