Many miles away on the far side of an immense gulf of air the Mediterranean is visibly frittering its time away, lying glazed and inert in its bed at two o'clock in the afternoon like a teenager who has been out clubbing all night.(p.4)The louche and misanthropic Gerald Samper, iconoclastic gourmet cook and ghost-writer to illiterate stars of sport and stage, is living in dread of his imminent fortieth birthday. It's time he moved up in the world, and Samper has high hopes of collaborating on the biography of conductor Max Christ, who just happens to be the brother-in-law of a rather charming oceanographer of Samper's acquaintance.
Meanwhile, he's stewing gently in his vine-shrouded Tuscan eyrie, sipping Prosecco and wondering whether he'll ever complete his biography of plucky amputee yachtswoman Millie Cleat. Wondering, too, whatever can have happened to his exotic and aggravating neighbour Marta, who's apparently vanished off the face of the earth. And wondering if his sixty-day supply of ProWang's PowRTabs (bought on the Internet, of course) might possibly be doing more harm than good.
I feared Tom Sharpe territory, but Gerald Samper is a delight: endlessly inventive in the kitchen ('Death Roe', a 'sable meal for a discoloured mood' that marries cod roe, black rice, squid ink and nutmeg); creatively vindictive (Millie Cleat is forcibly united with her spiritual side as a result of screwing up an oceanographic experiment off the Canaries); utterly unreliable as a narrator, but with sufficient charm to make up for any lapses in, well, the actualité. Also, absolutely hilarious -- in that very English way that's seasoned with embarrassment and a soupçon of disgust. Am now keen to read Hamilton-Paterson's other novels.