I read this book because it’s by James Hamilton-Paterson, the British author who wrote “America’s Boy,” an extensively researched book about Ferdinand Marcos and “Playing with Water” one about how the author imbibed the salt life in the Philippines. Some of his previous works have been given awards like "Gerontious" (which I haven’t read) and I will say Hamilton-Paterson has quite the alacrity in his descriptive narratives.
Gerald Samper is a reclusive ghost writer for sports stars who lives in the hills of Tuscany and as he builds his cottage, an Eastern European female neighbor comes along to make his life interesting, to say the least. Marta is the neighbor’s name, physically described as a frumpy woman with frizzy hair, she writes musical scores for films in Voynovia (is this a real country?) and she annoys the Dickens out of Gerald. The neighbors’ relationship is one of like and dislike, dislike when they are not in front of each other and conversely there is politeness face to face because Europeans have to be egalitarian after all.
Comedy is found in the situations and circumstances throughout the book as well as in the internal dialogue in Gerald’s head and in the letters Marta sends to her sister Marja which is full of drivel about Gerald. With wine being a social lubricant, the use of this cheap concoction named “Fernet Branca” is the common denominator for their meetings as well as in Gerald’s recipes. Gerald who also happens to be a chef of exotic foods (i.e., Otter with Lobster Sauce), posts the ingredients and the processes of the dishes as intermissions. Check out the conspicuous Liver Ice Cream with Fernet Branca that Gerald makes for Marta in an effort to redirect her away; here I thought that the Rhubarb or Mushroom Ice Cream that the American Iron Chefs make on TV are a far stretch. How about having a slice of his Alien Pie which requires cat in the recipe? (Shucks man, you’re nasty even for someone who eats Balut!).
To continue, Marta, for her good fortunes is in Italy because she was hired by a foremost Italian filmmaker who is part Sergio Leone - part Federico Fellini to write a score for his new film. Marta, not as creative as one would have her, plagiarizes Gerald’s renditions of Puccini’s Arias while working on his house and applies his singing to her score, though in an abstract way. Other hilarious bits found are in Marta's broken English which reads like they were extracted from Google's language translations such as, "I love you British Queens and Kings tradition..." Or "I want to learn you all of Voynovia, the fooding number one of all." LOL!.
The author’s tone in the narrative is cynical and incredulous of people and the continuity is effective. This is the part that will make one read through the book even if you have no interest in outrageous cuisine or fractious interpersonal relationships between humans. “Cooking with Fernet Branca” has spawned 2 more books, namely "Amazing Disgrace" and "Rancid Pansies" at the behest of the publishers because it did garner a following from people who found it quirky and entertaining. Your call if you want to read it.