Tuesday, April 3, 2012

REVIEW: Cooking with Fernet Branca, by James Hamilton-Paterson

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

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.

This is my 4th book for the 2012 Europa Challenge.

See reviews of Cooking with Fernet Branca at Desperado Penguin, and BookNAround, not to mention the Europa Challenge blog.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


Zibilee said...

When this book first came out, I was intrigued, and after reading your review I am thinking that this would be something that I would appreciate. It sounds fun, and wild and even a little devious, which are all qualities that I love in a book. It seems like Eurpoa Editions has got it going on! Great review today, Marie!

bermudaonion said...

I love to read about the expat experience so this does sound good to me.

Barbara said...

I so agree with your assessment of this hilarious book....if slightly mean-spirited, politically incorrect, and snarky humor is just your cup of English tea. Several guilty laugh out loud moments in this unapologetically rowdy novel. I agree it is not Wodehousian...Marta and Gerald are both too intelligent to fill the Wooster role but there are similarities in the "hijinks ensued" plot lines. Thanks for a good review and drawing attention to this fun book.

Sandy Nawrot said...

YOU'RE GOING TO ITALY??? Man, there is a reading project here somewhere.

ImageNations said...

The scene got me laughing. I wonder how they'll play each other. Reminds me of a movie I watched. lol