Debut fiction (subtitled “a novel of rapture”) about a lonely, middle-aged librarian who experiences a sexual reawakening intimately linked to her sensual kitchen skills.
British author Prior’s affection for Italy, especially its food, is clearly genuine, but her patronizing portrait of the Sicilian peasantry and Mafia verges on caricature. Here, Rosa Fiore narrates the story of her life in mid-century Sicily, emphasizing “the virility of our men and the fecundity of our women.” Early on, Rosa’s father “disappears,” apparently taken by members of the Mafia although no reason is given. Soon enough, then, the girl’s mother is holding “rehearsals” to find a suitor adequate to her sexual passion. Later, adolescent Rosa’s first lover is murdered by his Mafioso father, a matter of family honor since the boy slept with her while betrothed to another. Grief-stricken, Rosa cooks her way through her family’s farm produce and animals, then moves to Palermo and becomes a librarian. Twenty-five years later, her one remaining pleasure is cooking, and Rosa shows no false modesty regarding her prowess in the kitchen, sharing snatches of meal preparation (no actual recipes, only the dishes’ italicized titles) with her readers. One day a mysterious stranger with thinning hair, a small mustache, and bad teeth arrives at the library to do culinary research. Identified only as l’Inglese (the Englishman), he recognizes the beauty others have missed in Rosa’s heft and ample bosom, not to mention her complicated recipes. The two embark on an affair of torrid lovemaking and even more passionate food preparation. But Rosa’s new happiness ends abruptly when l’Inglese vanishes. She sorrowfully returns to the family farm to cook. After her brother Luigi claims he has had l’Inglese “removed,” Rosa is understandably upset: “So my brother had killed my lover. What a way to start the day.” Happily, though, a rosy—if inexplicable—ending lies in store for plucky Rosa.
Less a banquet of the senses than a junk-food gorge.