Cooking With Fernet Branca by James Hamilton Paterson - review by Tamsin Dean

Tamsin Dean

Add One Kilogram of Smoked Cat, Off the Bone

Cooking With Fernet Branca


Faber & Faber 256pp £10.99 order from our bookshop

TO READ THIS book requires a strong stomach. It is a tale of mutual misunderstanding, told in alternate sections by a couple of expats who have both been conned by a wily Italian vendor into buying adjoining houses on a Tuscan hillside and who fall in hate at first sight. Gerald Samper is an overgrown English schoolboy, keen on practical jokes and lavatory humour. He earns his living by ghost-writing the autobiographies of celebrities too young to have had any life to write about. Having just finished inventing some experiences for a racing driver, he is about to start on a rock star. But his true ambition has nothing to do with literature. It is to be recognised and remembered as a gourmet chef, so he records and discusses his special recipes in full, repulsive detail. The first describes how to cook mussels in soy sauce and chocolate. This is quickly followed by otter with lobster sauce and garlic, rhubarb and sardine chutney. Next come Fernet Branca and garlic ice cream. Samper concocts this 'delicacy' (in his mushroom and eau-de-nil kitchen) as a punitive present for his nosy new neighbour, Marta. She is a young Eastern European composer of neo-folk music who has been commissioned to write music for a movie by a famous Italian director. Her Mafia relations send her mercy parcels of local delicacies - or, rather, indelicacies - such as sausages too disgusting to describe and goose dripping for rubbing into her hair.

At this point the 'yuk' factor would have stopped me reading, but for the fact that I have admired other books by this skilful, highly original writer. If ever there were a novelist who does not churn out the same book over and over again, or even repeat himself at

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