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

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
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.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project