on 21 April 2006
Anthony Capella burst on the summer book market last year with his retelling of the Cyrano de Bergerac story, 'The Food of Love'. Now, in a delightful tale that mixes fact and fiction, Capella has moved the setting from modern-day Rome to Naples in the latter years of the Second World War. Understandably the story is darker than the first novel, but the narrative still brilliantly conveys the warmth and passion of Italy, the beauty of the countryside around Vesuvius, and of course the joy of Italian food, both in feast and famine. The author has also researched his subject. The big adventure that took away the romantic young men of Mussolini's Italy turns into the nightmare of war, and starvation and humiliation for the women of Naples. With even-handed portrayals of Allied and German troops and penetrating observations of what people will do simply to survive, Capella mines his subject skillfully. But in the end this is a fine love story from a very fine storyteller.
on 23 August 2010
A most beautiful book, and Anthony Capellas best, which I initially read shortly after my first trip to Italy. For me no book since has so successfully managed to catch the flavour of Italian food and life to which I have happily become accustomed.
My father and I have very different reading tastes, I love romance and he is keen on historical fact, but on begging him to read this (and ultimately placing it in his hands on a flight to Rome) he also fell for its charms, and now trusts my recommendations! It has been passed around the whole family and noones disagrees. He has since read and believes this is based on 'Naples '44: A World War II Diary of Occupied Italy'.
For me is has the same spirit as 'Captain Corellis Mandolin' without the 'sticky' bits of war history which the boys in my family loved but I struggled through. In contrast there is no interruption to the the flow of Capellas prose, while remaining true to the history, policy and horrors of war.
Never have I read such mouthwatering accounts of food, and never before have I so believed in love. I have been encouraged to find the best of Italy, and on a cold winters night in Ireland I can be transported to the warmth of Italian life.
I would recommend this to anyone who loves food, history, Italy, love or life. I recommend it to everyone, everywhere I go. I cannot imagine anyone not loving it.
on 15 January 2008
This novel is a must for lovers of Italy! A frothy Cappuccino, with several shots of strong Espresso; a wonderful blend of love, war, food and the strength of the human spirit. A young British officer, James Gould arrives in Naples in 1943 with the job of vetting all applications for marriage between local girls and British personnel. The majority of the matches are totally unsuitable and the very 'upright' James intends to do everything by the rule book. But .... this is Italy, and Italy has a way of changing people's perspectives; rules are made to be broken, and what happens when the Wedding Officer himself falls in love! This is all set against the background of occupation, with the Germans now occupying the North, whilst the British and Americans push from the South. We're given a strong flavour of the fighting during the 1944 Anzio Campaign, and an insight into the role played by the Italian Partisans. As if that wasn't enough, we have the dreadful fury of nature - the 1944 eruption of Vesuvius. The British and American soldiers carried out a relief operation that no doubt lessened the human devastation resulting from the eruption. The reader goes on a very personal journey with James, and is rewarded by a very satisfactory finale!
The Wedding Officer is not a book that can easily be categorised. It would seem to fall into the category of historical romance, however, that does not convey the book appropriately and makes it sound far more staid than it actually is. Getting straight to the point, on the whole, I really enjoyed this book, it was quite different from anything I've read recently; it has far more substance than anything which is traditionally considered chick lit while still predominantly being a love story.
I think it veers from the chick lit genre by having the main character as James, the wedding officer of the title, who is an English Officer that has been stationed in Italy during WWII. He is a good man who will stick to the rules and who is rather naïve. Livia is sent by the locals to keep an eye on him and to educate him in the ways of Italy. Although James and Livia are the main characters in this book, everything actually centres around the food that is so lovingly prepared by Livia. This food is described in such perfect detail that you could almost taste it, my mouth was watering and it made me want to up sticks and go straight to Italy to try it for myself.
The majority of this book is very character driven, I felt completely drawn into the world of James and Livia and deeply cared about what happened to them. However, this all falls apart towards the end of the book with most of the story centring around the action of WWII and showing a complete change in Livia's character which I found hard to come to terms with as a reader as it didn't ring true. I felt like a story had originally been written and then the author was told that more action needed to be added so the book was butchered to include these scenes.
If the final section of the book had been as warm and eloquent as the rest then this would have easily got 5 stars, however, I found the end of the book a struggle to read which was a disappointment after the beginning where I'd been completely engrossed.
on 20 January 2009
`The Wedding Officer' appears at first glance to be a culinary historical romance, along the lines of Joanne Harris' `Chocolat'. `The Wedding Officer' is set in and around Naples during the second world war. James Gould, an officer in the British Army is assigned to Naples to vet the fiancées of soldiers. He arrives to find a city corrupt, with a thriving black market, bribery commonplace, and where almost half the female population are working as prostitutes. James sets about in a very bumbling, British manner to stamp out this inequity, and to clean up the streets of Naples.
As one might expect, his initial attempts at closing down the black market are somewhat unsuccessful. Equally almost every fiancée he meets is deemed unsuitable, as they are almost exclusively working on the streets. The history of Naples at this period is well researched, and cleverly integrated into the book. I found the young women's plight shocking, that almost all young women were forced to support themselves in this way to avoid starvation, as so many places of work were destroyed in air raids, or closed down following the German withdrawal from the area.
The history was well researched, and the first three sections of the book were informative while still focussing on the story of James and Livia, and James' struggles with the underground and restoring peace to Italy. The climate and scenery is well depicted, and the atmosphere of life on the slopes of Vesuvius is gloriously painted. Livia describes how she would rather live each day in such a dangerous place because of the hope and enthusiasm it gives her, than to move somewhere lesser and only live a half life. This is said in a beautiful manner, and the book overall enforces a love of life.
At the start of the book James meets the officer he will be replacing, while a likeable chap, James is horrified at how readily he has accepted the Neapolitan way of doing things, and decides to conduct his affairs in a more incorruptible way, removing the tin of bribes from the cupboard, and not succumbing to the advances of the fiancées, many of whom try to influence his report with an envelope of lire or sexual promises. However the change in James is remarkable throughout the book, while the author loosely relates it to his heart softening as he himself falls in love, I found it more that James became worldly and lost much of his naiveté about how society should work as he asserted his place within it.
James is a very well written character, utterly believable without being stereotypical. He is flawed, but he tries his best and is a good, honest man. James remains constant throughout the novel, dependable, but underneath always romantic. Almost all of the dialogue on feelings comes from James' perspective rather than Livia, who is more sexually confident. This is unfortunate in many ways, as Livia seems to have stumbled into this relationship and not be truly as committed as she was to her husband. The author writes of her overwhelming love for Enzo, despite him not being portrayed as the nicest of people. Livia is first brought to be James' chef as a way of controlling him, however the reasoning behind this is not fully explored, and nothing seems to be made of this later.
The character of Livia is in some ways as thorough as James, but in others lacking. She is written as being quite a typical Italian woman, hot headed and passionate, but also intelligent. Livia is more divided than James, having several priorities, and having experienced a lot of hardship during the war. She is also being pursued by a scary, underworld character who seeks to make her his through any means nessisary. The passages where she is cooking are beautifully constructed, and it is easy to believe her persona is based upon a real person, who the author greatly admires and loves. The author clearly has a love of food, and this pleasure draws the whole book together. All the important incidents in the book relate in some way to food, and it is this love of cookery as much as the love between Livia and James that binds the story together.
Despite the title of the book, James' role as the wedding officer is only a small part of the storyline. The book is much richer than the blurb would have you believe, and while not a difficult read, is very informative. This is at it's core, a historical romance, however I do not think this could fall into the genre of `chick lit' by any imagination. The cover would suggest a staid romance that might appeal to mature ladies, however I think this is a let down, and enforces the adage never to judge a book by the cover, as many of the encounters between James and Livia are decidedly racy.
The book is divided into 4 sections, the first three flow seamlessly together and create a rounded, well structured novel. However the final section seems very separate from the rest of the book, extremely heavy in action and lacking in emotion. The beautiful language that characterised the rest of the book is quite absent here. While factually this section of the book is as accurate as the others, I found it quite disjointed. The character of Livia also seemed lessened in this section, becoming politically active, something we saw no sign of earlier in the book, and distant from the loving, caring person we had previously seen. As cookery so defined Livia throughout the rest of the book, it seems strange that for no real reason she has abandoned that passion to become a politician, a much colder, more structured role.
I very much enjoyed this book, however the final section was a let down. I felt that the last section of the book could have been structured into a book in itself, and let the story of James and Livia stay clear. This is an immensely enjoyable read, with good sub plots, believable characters and stunning, evocative language that has you almost tasting the food, and smelling the olive groves outside.