Cooking with Fernet Branca, by James Hamilton-Paterson - Reviews - Books - The Independent

Faber & Faber, £10.99

Cooking with Fernet Branca, by James Hamilton-Paterson

A comedy of menus high up in Tuscany

Going by the title, you might reasonably expect this to be a cookbook, if of a specialised nature. Though it contains recipes, it is unlikely that the fratelli Branca, who distil the potent restorative of the title, would wish to sponsor any work that includes such dishes as Otter with Lobster Sauce, Rabbit in Cep Custard and Alien Pie, a savoury repast that requires "1kg smoked cat, off the bone". These gruesome concoctions are the specialities of Gerald Samper, the petulant, arch and queeny protagonist of this enjoyable comedy of expatriate life.

Like his creator, Samper is an author who lives on top of a Tuscan mountain overlooking the Mediterranean. For the sake of James Hamilton-Paterson's future health, it is to be hoped the real-life parallels stop there, for Samper is saddled with a noisy new neighbour who happens to be the daughter of a Slavic gangster. The prissy Englishman and exuberant Marta recount their wary encounters in alternate sections. Hamilton-Paterson extracts much humour from their greatly varying views.

Samper seeks an outlet for his seething misanthropism by inflicting emetic dishes on anyone with the misfortune to encounter him. Sadly, this backfires with Marta, who has a taste for ferocious flavours. She regards his Fernet-Branca and Garlic ice-cream as "a bit bland", while he has to eat one of her dumplings, which has "a toffee-like filling based apparently on horse liniment". Later, Samper reports, "great putty-flavoured farts follow me from room to room".

Having set up this promising mésalliance, Hamilton-Paterson does not do a great deal with it. His two leading figures are both plunged into fairly unlikely subplots. Marta is writing a film score for a director who is a cross between Antonioni and Fellini, while Samper agrees to ghostwrite the memoir of a vocalist in a British boy band. The latter was an unfortunate choice, since no register is harder to achieve than the hipster slang of a younger generation. Equally, Marta's auteur employer is less monstrous than the real thing.

Even if it doesn't go anywhere in particular, the yarn is filigreed with a host of baroque detail, such as Samper's fondness for mordant anagrams based on Lyme Regis - the location of a family tragedy. Hamilton-Paterson pulls off some fine comic set-pieces. The film director's casual destruction of a fence painfully constructed by Samper (he shoots himself in the ankle with a nail-gun) had me chortling.

But it is the recipes that linger in the mind. The "single drop of household paraffin" added to Alien Pie is a truly ghastly touch. Although Hamilton-Paterson names both the producer and village where you can obtain the best smoked cat, you don't get much by tapping "gatto affumato" into Google. However, his inclusion of a Tuscan estate agent who assures Samper and Marta that their neighbour "is only here one month in the year" has a ring of absolute veracity.

Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week