Have you ever read a book that was so off-the-wall ridiculous, it left you feeling giddy and slightly disoriented. A feeling that one could liken to a night spent in Dali-esque semi-consciousness with the Benny Hill theme song playing as backdrop? If you haven’t, Cooking With Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Patterson, may provide you with the opportunity. But only if you’re of legal drinking age. Let’s see those IDs, please.
How does one describe Cooking With Fernet Branca? To write about it in complete sentences seems way too organized a method for this slapstick comedy. So, maybe I should just throw out some words and phrases, a whole lot of commas, and let it roll.
Incompatible neighbors: a British writer, a Voynovian composer. Voynovian? Eccentric stomach-churning recipes, ill-fitting garments, frizzy hair, flatulent hangovers, a paranoid pop star, a pretentious Italian director, helicopters, pyrotechnics, and family drama in heavy doses. Misunderstandings, miscommunications, and mishaps abound. It is truly a circus of a story.
Cooking With Fernet Branca, primarily takes place on a beautiful hilltop in Tuscany. The plot is convoluted. The characters are problematic and not inherently likeable. Yet it’s this combination of factors that makes Cooking With Fernet Branca so damn funny. As a reader, you just have to let go, and enjoy the ride. And as you get further and further along in the story, those not so likeable characters begin to grow on you, and you’ll become totally invested in their outcome.
If hysterical absurdity is an art form (and I, personally, believe it is) then Hamilton-Patterson has wielded his prose masterfully. Cooking With Fernet Branca is the definition of low-brow, and it takes the idea of romp to elevated levels. But during these uncertain times, a bit of frivolity is a nice respite.
By the way, I recently tried a small glass of Fernet Branca. I don’t think I’ll be trying it again.