Sunday, November 14, 2010

Enthusiasms Taken Way Too Far

Guess what? An author you probably haven't heard of... and there's a fairly good reason I'd say.  Anthony Capella, author of, amongst others, The Food of Love, at best fills a niche for travel/gourmet novels, which as far as I know, is a fairly empty one.  The concept is pretty great, I admit, at least from my perspective.  You know how much I love travel books, or really books that take place in different countries that make my list of interesting ones (yes, that's Western Europe, if you're wondering :)), and it should be fairly obvious how much I love food :) So a book about Italy, and really about Italian food? Sure, why not? Actually though, when I read my first of Anthony Capella's books, The Wedding Officer, I had no idea it would be so food-centric (it is rather less than this one, his first).  I got it out because it looked romantic... and to some extent, it was that too.  But Anthony Capella, being a man, doesn't write chic lit, or even what I consider good romance.  I mean there's drama and great love involved, but not necessarily that angst, frustration, and ultimate reconciliation that comes standard in my favorite fare :) So the point is, I'm not even going to evaluate this book based on its romantic possibilities... I'm going to do it on its own terms.

Well not quite its own terms I guess... that would be merely a question of does it succeed upon the travel and gourmet fronts? Let me first answer that.  Travel - I'd say you get a good feel for what he think Rome is like, or wants it to be like (and he has some experience, as he's spent time there)... and it's a very Italian place, as I would expect.  And since Italians at their most Italian are a group about which I thoroughly enjoy reading - super confident, fairly capable, completely unfazed by everything displays of emotions and insurmountable obstacles - I'd say it was a definite plus for the book.  Food-wise... well #1, I had no idea of what half the foods he talked about were, since they were mostly Italian specialties, and #2, he makes this huge deal about the subtleties of this or that flavor and the importance of this or that ingredient, which I don't quite buy into.   With that said, if there's one enthusiasm with which I sympathize, it's food.  So it takes a while before the deeply detailed descriptions of every part of the meal you can think of get old.  They do get old eventually though, so I'm not sure if the culinary description is a redeeming feature. 

So from what exactly does this book need redeeming? Am I allowed to complain about the romance? :) Yes, because I'm not complaining about the lack of my idea of romance per se... that's fine, not every book has to be written to be good chic lit, and I certainly wouldn't expect this one to be.  It's much that even what the book does purport to be, a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac tale according to the jacket flap, it... well I don't know if it fails utterly, but it certainly falls short.  Here's the main complaint: Bruno is madly in love with Laura who's in love with his best friend Tomaso, so he cooks all these amazing dishes for her and comes up with more and more spectacular food as he's inspired by her... but meanwhile, it's all a tragedy because she thinks it's his best friend who's really a total nobody and he's just sitting there nobly pining away... but guess what? THAT GIRL JUST AIN'T WORTH IT.  She's pretty, artsy, and appreciates food - but she has *zero* personality.  She's boring and stupid and totally unworthy of inspiring great love.  In the middle of the book, another girl (some Italian name I can't remember) is introduced as a foil, and I was like, yeah, pick her, she's cool! But of course, no, he has to go back to Laura.  The whole thing, which tries for big drama, comes of more as a farce.

Now here's the second issue.  To some extent I think, the book is meant as a farce.  And as a farce, I could have enjoyed it a whole lot more.  But unfortunately, it just takes itself *way* too seriously.  I don't know if you remember, or if I actually ever even posted this (pretty sure I did), while I love The Morning Gift, the most annoying part of the book was the almost religious significance it bestowed on music.  I mean I like music *a lot*, but it doesn't like move my world or anything.  I felt like this book did the exact same thing with food.  It's just not that earth-shattering, ya know? It's good, there's a lot to do with it, but in the end of the day, it doesn't express anything more than the obvious.  And I know that's kind of funny, coming from me who compares e/t to food... but you know I'm not actually serious, right? :) Whereas this book seems all too serious about it... and turns what could be a light and fun Italian festo (looked that up :)) into a melodramatic and rather lurid tale of appetites. (man I think I outdid myself there with subtle punning :))

Verdict: 2/5
Food: Gosh I feel silly doing this... a food that takes itself too seriously? There are a lot of those, but I don't tend to eat them :) Let's just say any chicken dish with exotic ingredients... unnecessary, don't add much, and if the chicken isn't cooked right, it's still not good

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