The Big Oyster: New York in the World – A Molluscular History by Mark Kurlansky - review by Harry Mount

Harry Mount

Why Ask If Shad Do It?

The Big Oyster: New York in the World – A Molluscular History

By

Jonathan Cape 307pp £17.99 order from our bookshop
 

Next time you eat an oyster, you may or may not like to know that you’re eating the oyster’s brain, stomach, intestines, liver, heart, muscle, gills and lips. Oh, and that thin salty water all these things are floating in? That’s oyster blood.

People who like oysters are a robust breed – the sort who like their beef blue and their Bloody Marys fiery – and will actively like the idea of swallowing bits of anatomy. They also tend to be a pretty well-off, sophisticated breed nowadays. Even though oyster consumption is on the up, and oysters are flourishing in British waters, they are still the staple diet in Green’s of St James’s, not in McDonald’s.

This exclusivity would have stunned Londoners and New Yorkers in the nineteenth century. As Sam in The Pickwick Papers put it, ‘Poverty and oysters always seem to go together. Blessed if I don’t think that ven a man’s wery poor, he rushes out of his lodgings, and eats oysters in

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