By: Frances Mayes
Frances Mayes—widely published poet, gourmet cook, and travel writer—opens the door to a wondrous new world when she buys and restores an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. In evocative language, she brings the reader along as she discovers the beauty and simplicity of life in Italy. Mayes also creates dozens of delicious seasonal recipes from her traditional kitchen and simple garden, all of which she includes in the book. Doing for Tuscany what M.F.K. Fisher and Peter Mayle did for Provence, Mayes writes about the tastes and pleasures of a foreign country with gusto and passion.
Completion: I finished this novel in about two days. However, this book is not the type of book that needs or should be read at a quick pace. Plenty of people will find it adequate to read a couple of pages a day in a leisurely manner.
Writing/Style: The writing is generous and plentiful. From Italy to the villa to the food, Frances Mayes spares no expense in awakening the senses and enveloping the reader in rich imagery and detail. This detail works well with this slice-of-life style of memoir.
Characters: The true characters of this book are the Italian villa and Italy itself. These characters are given rich history, description, and development. The human characters, on the other hand, take a backseat. While there is the occasional mention of character background or development, the novel begins with little to no context as to the lives and personalities of these people and makes no effort to quickly remedy it. Perhaps if you are already familiar with Frances Mayes — her bio does make her sound like a big deal, then maybe this is of no concern. As for me, once the beauty of the writing wore off, there were moments when the story became the same as if some stranger at a party decided to monologue about their journey to renovate their house: interesting, but not nearly as interesting at they think it is.
Plot/Pacing: Plot? There really is no plot. This book is a love letter to Mayes’ Italian villa Bramasole and to Italy. The conflict, if you want to call it that, is a series of minor inconveniences that resolve rather effortlessly. While some will appreciate the calm, mild pleasantness of this quiet tale to restore an Italian villa, others will probably become frustrated by the luxury and privilege these characters experience and the story’s lack of traditional plot development.
World-building/Atmosphere: This book did nothing to quiet my wanderlust. Italy is brought to life along with all of its charms and oddities. I so wish to spend at least a summer under the Tuscan sun.
Sub-genres (Romance, Humor, Mystery, etc.): Here’s my gift from me to you: if you decide to read this book, don’t read it when you are hungry at work. Not smart, my friend. There’s not only lavish descriptions of cooking and food but also detailed Tuscan recipes, and they all sound delicious.
FINAL VERDICT: Once I realized the nature of this memoir as a atmosphere and setting-based story, I quite enjoyed it. If you are in need of a lazy summer read, you could do no better. If you go in with different expectations, however, you might be sorely disappointed.