“Two acquaintances who tried to make the dish died within the month, one in Buckinghamshire and the other in Somerset… The cleric’s body was found three weeks later, much disfigured. The drama teacher was never seen again. On enquiring I discovered that each had used commercial mayonnaise purchased in a supermarket for this recipe, so there is some justice in this world after all, even if a bit on the lenient side.” (Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson)
Sometimes, being so involved with books can bring on a sort of passive cowardice when selecting your next read. I hear something or another about so many books that nearly all of my selections are pre-planned and, to some extent, a forgone conclusion. Every now and then I think it is healthy for older bookish people (because younger bookish people are always doing this) to just grab something off the shelf, with no idea what to expect, and bring it home without even reading the back cover, last pages, or blurbs. No matter what, do not check the rating on Amazon. In these situations, it is best to put as much emphasis on the cover design as possible. You’ll want to judge the book instantaneously by its color, graphics, fonts, and, if you are in a library, by its condition. You want a nice, healthy looking book, as you would if you were picking out peaches at the grocery store.
Although this method of selection may not always work, it undoubtedly would if you happened to pick up Cooking With Fernet Branca, which you would have to do after seeing its plumb purple cover with a wine bottle as big as the house, and, of course, food-related title. However, if you go and purposely purchase it immediately after hearing about it, I will not fault you. It is quite simply the most devilishly humorous book I’ve read in ages.
Although the charmingly un-self-aware, neighbor-criticizing characters are worth several belly laughs, the real prize comes when the book is punctuated by Gerry’s outlandish recipes. They start out as almost-believable concoctions, and you may amuse yourself by considering whether muscles and chocolate, or otter and lobster, might really go together. But, by the time you start reading about the delicious, tantalizing flavor of smoked cat, be ready to un-suspend your disbelief and ensure you are in a place where people accept noisy readers. I have read several excellent books recently, but this is, no contest, my favorite. It is quite possibly my favorite book this year, and well worth your time if you can find it.
Recommended Action: Buy –
Borrow – TBR – Avoid
Length: 281 pages
Ending: Open to interpretation
Further Reading: The way the very British Gerald Stamper continuously refers to himself and his bloodline reminds me very much of Bertie Wooster from P.G. Wodehouse’s classic. I would highly recommend following up this comic work with some good old Jeeves and Wooster – it won’t have the some bite as the more modern Frenet Branca, but I believe it will satisfy your inevitable desire for more dry British humor.