A recipe for laughs

2008-10-22 00:00

This is the third outing for Gerald Samper, James Hamilton-Paterson’s mordant British ex-pat based in Tuscany, Italy.

Hamilton-Paterson, himself living in permanent exile from the country of his birth — in the Philippines, Italy and now Austria — is famously unclassifiable as a writer, his books ranging from travel memoirs (Playing with Water, Three Miles Down), to novels (Gerontius, The Ghosts of Manila) and biography, both real (American Boy about Ferdinand Marcos) and imagined (Loving Monsters).

Although critically acclaimed, Hamilton-Paterson has long flown below the commercial radar. Until Cooking with Fernet Branca came along, the first outing for Samper who ghost-writes autobiographies for mindless celebs, the proceeds of which purchased him a Tuscan villa. Here he encountered Marta, his East European neighbour, a fixture of the novels, including the second Amazing Disgrace. Another shared feature are the appalling recipes Samper concocts.

In Rancid Pansies we find Samper longing to have his true talent as a creative artist recognised. Given a measure of freedom to indulge his whim via an unexpected windfall, he sets about writing the libretto for an opera with Diana, Princess of Wales, as its heroine.

Samper is a great comic creation: cynical and politically incorrect, there’s probably something here to offend everyone, especially Princess Diana devotees (the book’s title is an anagram). There’s plenty to chuckle over and one set-piece — a dinner party that goes horribly wrong — is laugh-out-loud funny. But by the end you get the feeling that Hamilton-Paterson is having to strive for effect and that not much more can be wrung from this character. However, there is no ignoring Hamilton-Paterson’s beautifully crafted writing and his eye for the telling phrase.

It is those qualities that find this reviewer hoping Samper now be given a rest and Hamilton-Paterson return to his unclassifiable best.

Stephen Coan

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