No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, July 28, 2011

2011/34: Cooking with Fernet Branca -- James Hamilton-Paterson

I looked forward to being neither a wage slave nor a tycoon. But that was before British culture slumped to an infantile consensus obsessed with cash and fashion. New Labour and wall-to-wall football have left only exile, the stoic's way out. If one is not allowed to be serious one might as well emigrate. Even mockery is an art form requiring discipline and sacrifice. (p.56)
The first Gerald Samper novel (preceding Amazing Disgrace, a recent read): here, Samper is somewhat less likeable, probably because his narrative ("a cetain refinement of manner and mind", p.8) alternates with that his neighbour Marta (she describes Gerald as "petty and snobbish with a kind of dandyish disdain", p.31), thus leavening our hero's amour propre with a healthy larding of realism.

The plot ...

The plot. There is one. It concerns Gerald and Marta's mutual suspicion -- he doesn't believe that she is East European nobility, composing the soundtrack for a famous Italian director's latest film; she doesn't believe that he ghost-writes celebrity biographies for a living -- and the comedy of errors that ensues when Marta's younger sister attempts to elope, Gerald's latest subject (a bald boy-band singer with a degree in Counter-cultural Studies) sees a UFO, and Gerald realises that he has unwittingly provided inspiration for Marta's score.

This summary does not convey the novel's charm, though it does grossly simplify the events therein. I like Gerald, even if he is vain, misanthropic, excessively right-leaning and chronically insecure. (I like Gerald even though his recipe for Alien Pie involves smoked kitty: "any cook knows that a subtle and delicate meat like cat will not easily blend with the stolid, Calvinist flavour of root crops", p.165) I like Marta's wickedly dry humour and the way that she never resists the temptation to tease Gerald. And Gerald's frightful puns and wordplay are very cheering.

Do not read this book if you are on a diet. Gerald is a true gourmet, and manages to make even garlic ice-cream (with Fernet Branca) sound appetising. Also, I really want to know if the thing about mussels, soy sauce and chocolate is true. possibly not enough to try it for myself though.

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