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Cooking with Fernet Branca Paperback – September 1, 2005

33 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Gerald Samper Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Usually writers taking a holiday from their serious work will use a pseudonym (DeLillo as Cleo Birdwell), but British novelist Hamilton-Paterson (Gerontius, etc.), who lives in Italy, bravely serves a very funny sendup of Italian-cooking-holiday-romance novels, without any camouflage. Written from the alternating perspectives of two foreigners who have bought neighboring Tuscan houses, the book has no plot to speak of beyond when-will-they-sleep-together. Gerald Samper is an effete British ghost writer of sportsperson biographies (such as skier Per Snoilsson's Downhill All the Way!); neighbor Marta is a native Voynovian (think mountainous eastern bloc) trying to escape her rich family's descent into postcommunist criminality—by writing a film score for a "famous" pornographer's latest project. Each downs copious amounts of the title swill and carps at the reader about the other's infuriating ways: Gerald sings to himself in a manner that Marta then parodies for the film; Gerald relentlessly dissects the Voyde cuisine Marta serves him, all the while sharing recipes for his own hilariously absurd cuisine. Rock stars, helicopters, the porn director and son, and Marta's mafia brother all make appearances. The fun is in Hamilton-Paterson's offhand observations and delicate touch in handling his two unreliable misfits as they find each other—and there's lots of it. (Oct.)
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Hamilton-Paterson quickly seduces the reader with perfectly captured acerbic tone and timing. -- The New Yorker

Provokes a sort of indecorous involuntary laughter… Imagine a British John Waters crossed with David Sedaris. -- The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 281 pages
  • Publisher: Europa Editions; Fifth Edition edition (September 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 193337201X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933372013
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #337,619 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A. Kelly on January 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
I opened this one with trepidation after avoiding it for quite awhile. I heard about it thru' a Booker Prize programme on a BBC (UK) channel, in which "ordinary folk" were given the duty of reading every book on the Booker Prize long list, to see if their choices tallied with the judges as to who made it onto the short list.

This was the one book that all the ordinary reviewers agreed on as being a pure delight to read. I tend to the view that all Booker books are so very "literary", with such scant regard to minor details as interesting characters, plot and story progresssion as to be near unreadable. So this was SUCH a pleasant surprise (as was the eventual winner "The Line Of Beauty" another recommended, highly readable novel.)

So acidly funny that I laughed out loud frequently and raced thru' it to (regretfully) finish the novel in two days.

The characters of Gerry and Marta are complete grotesques and the satirical and accurate sideswipes at such targets as pretentious film directors, modern "celebrities" and the Tuscan idyll memoir are mordantly witty. A joy!
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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Peter T. Dewey on September 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
Readers accustomed to those travel stories whereby foreigners fall in love with a tumbledown old house in France or Italy and then lovingly restore it with the help of a bunch of well meaning but unreliable locals will love this new novel.

Essentially a satire on the travel memoir genre, 'Cooking' is the story of Gerald and Marta, a pair of ill matched neighbours who live in a tiny village in the Tuscan hills. He is a English snob who ghostwrites for a living and cooks implausible recipes (thoughtfully included, but not recommended!!) as a vocation. Marta is an East European composer of film scores.

The story is told be each of the characters in turn (each in the first person) as their lives become increasingly and reluctantly intertwined.

You will guess the ending long before it arrives, but it won't matter at all. You'll be laughing too hard to care!

Beautifully written and highly recommended.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Snap Dragon on January 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
Best thing about the book is the dual perspective it is written from - alternate sections are written in the first person of two different people, Gerald, a ghostwriter, and Marta, a film music composer. They start off thinking the worst of each other, by and by modifying their opinions only slightly - thinking the other is a well-meaning but blundering, drunken fool.

It is an outrageously comic commentary on a wide variety of subjects such as filmmaking, possible explanations for UFO-sightings, rebels from ex-Soviet bloc countries, and so on.

Gerald being a self-professed "great cook" creates these ridiculous tongue-in-cheek recipes like "Chocolate coated and deep-fried mussels" with a perfectly straight face. Extraordinary quantities of Fernet Branca, a bitter Italian liqueur, is drunk throughout by all the characters, and all of Gerald's recipes contain Fernet Branca, giving the book its incongruous title.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Lindsay Brown on February 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
I don't know about the serious work of James Hamilton-Paterson, but this totally entertaining book is gorgeously written, with such a lavish attention to the craft of writing that some people might think he wasted staggering amounts of talent on fluff. But there's the mark of a fantastic writer -- he obviously has staggering amounts of talent to waste. Eloquently crafted, paragraph after paragraph, so entertaining and so beautifully written you are moved to tears of laughter and nearly speechless appreciation for the gift of what you're reading. The description of Alien Pie and the ultimate experience of its consumption must be the high point of the book, although I haven't finished it yet, so there could be something even better in store.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Wendy Kaplan on May 19, 2006
Format: Paperback
I don't even know how to start to praise this sly, witty, absolutely brilliant send-up of all books "Tuscany," all cookbooks ever written, all travelogues post-Pepys (and maybe even him) and modern life in general.

Here we have a disaffected Brit, self-satisfied fortyish Gerald Samper, whose job it is to ghost-write autobiographies of egregious celebrities from the sports world. Repairing to Tuscany and buying what he thinks is a secluded house, Gerald settles down to write and to pursue his two REAL avocations: cooking (and the recipes are unlike any you are ever likely to see, from smoked cat to udders with butterscotch sauce, listed with a completely straight face) and singing opera.

Into Gerald's idyll comes an unlikely neighbor: Marta, from a fictional Slavic country--she of the wiry hair dutifully brushed each night with goose grease, large peasant body and strange eastern european tastes...such as kasha dumplings the size of a small planet, washed down, of course, with the ubiquitous "Fernet Branca," rather lethal in its effect.

Marta is a composer, hired to write the score for a Fellini-like director who may or may not be creating the porn film of all time--nobody is sure.

Alternating voices, the author takes us into the decidedly strange minds of Gerald and Marta, first one and then the other, as we see events unfold from each of their points of view.

I could hardly read for laughing, there were times when I laughed until the tears came. I cannot recommend this incredibly brilliant romp highly enough. Do yourself a favor and read it while sipping some wine...and possibly dining on fresh otter. Always a treat!
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