Monday, May 4, 2009

Cooking with Fernet Branca, James Hamilton-Paterson

Posted by lea at 10:45 AM
One of the first books to have me laughing out loud on public transport since the Asterix series back in high school, Cooking with Fernet Branca is (unlike Gerald's experimental cooking) a pure masterpiece. Its hilarity is in both the wit and humour of the language as well as the farcical situation the new neighbours, Gerald and Marta, find themselves in. Both have moved to Tuscany to pursue their artistic endeavours - Gerald to ghostwrite his latest celebrity book and Marta to write the musical score to famed director Piero Pacini's latest movie - with the assurance of the real estate agent that they would find peace and quiet. Instead, they find each other - thorn in the side, pain in the neck neighbours.

The narrative viewpoint shifts between the two main characters, giving the reader a perfect view of their imperfect relationship and a hilarious counterpoint to their misunderstandings of each other. Gerald, with his camp, fussy arrogance is a particularly tear-inducingly funny character. An excerpt from one of his chapters describing some part of their first obligatory neighbourly dinner together:

'And your work Gerree, what your work?'
'I'm a writer, Marta.'
'Ah Gerree, you and me artists.'
'Well...'
'But yes. I am songer.'
'A singer?'
'No. I am making songs.'

Later, as Marta brings out his specially (and spitefully) made garlic ice cream:

'And now, Gerree, we try your ice cream. Is very special fooding.'
'Cuisine,' I say curtly, ' We say "cuisine", not "fooding". 'Fooding" doesn't exist in English.' For I was reckless now, determined that my natural good manners shouldn't let me in for whatever designs she had on me. Still those very manners oblige me grudgingly to admit that she not only downed her garlic ice cream like a trooper, but promptly called for more. By that stage our taste buds were surely dead and between us we polished it off. Thereafter I remember nothing except an achingly Socratic sensation of coldness which was explained only when I woke myself with a series of awesome farts to find that I was lying on the ground by my front doorstep with dawn breaking all around.'

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