Sunday, April 15, 2012

Marie C. Reviews Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson

Cooking with Fernet Branca, by James Hamilton-Paterson. Published by Europa Editions 2009.

What a hoot this fun, fast-reading novel is. Set in the Tuscan hills, so full of British ex-pats that some call it Chiantishire (and our hero calls it Tuscminster), it tells the story of mismatched neighbors Gerald and Marta.

James Hamilton-Paterson alternates the points of view to comic effect. Marta comes from the fictional Eastern bloc country of Voyde, recently liberated from Soviet control. She's a musician composing a score for a sleazy yet charismatic film director. Gerald is a ghostwriter/biographer preparing a book for a vacuous celebrity. Both just want a quiet place to work; their shady realtor assures each that the other will be no trouble. But Gerald is also loud off-key singer and cheerful drunk always getting into scrapes and Marta has noisy late-night visitors and puzzles Gerald no end. Gerald thinks Marta is a frump and a hag. She thinks he's a fool and a pain. They hate each other, yet they can't stay away from one another. Let the shenanigans begin.

I really enjoyed the book. I didn't love it to pieces but it was fun. It didn't strike me as Wodehousian as some reviewers have commented; it was certainly funny and satirical though. I don't know, it just didn't have that Wodehouse light touch. There was a lot of hostility between the two, and Gerald in particular could be quite nasty and mean-spirited. Marta came off better if only because Gerald is so off in the way he sizes her up, and so superficial. So I didn't like him very much. But he was fun to watch. And oh my, those recipes look truly affreux, as the French would say.

If you're reading Europa books, this one is probably required at some point. I'm glad I read it. I'm going to read a bunch of Italian Europas for the next few months since I'm going to Italy in the fall with my family. This was a great book to get me going.

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