Monday, March 26, 2012

Marie 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 tells the story by alternating points of view. Gerald thinks Marta is a frump and a hag; she thinks he's a fool and a pain. Marta comes from the fictional Eastern bloc country of Voyde, recently liberated from Soviet control. Both just want a quiet place to work; their shady realtor assures each that the other will be no trouble. But Gerald is a biographer as well as a loud off-key singer and cheerful drunk always getting into scrapes. Marta is a musician struggling to compose a score for a slightly greasy but very famous director. They hate each other. Let the misunderstandings, shenanigans and barely-restrained animosity begin.

This book has been reviewed a bunch of times on the Europa Challenge blog so I won't say more about the plot. I will say I really enjoyed the book. It didn't strike me as Wodehousian as some of you 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 Challenge.

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