Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Under the Tuscan Sun

Title:  Under the Tuscan Sun
Author:  Frances Mayes
Publication Information:  Chronicle Books (original). 1996 (original). 288 pages.
ISBN:  0811808424 / 978-0811808422

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "'What are you going to grow here?' The upholsterer lugs an armchair up the walkway to the house but his quick eyes are on the land."

Favorite Quote:  "Living and writing in a foreign country shakes me to the core. I think that's a positive thing because we are creatures of our culture. We tend to vote the way our peers do, value what those near us value, worship and eat and dress pretty close to home. Sometimes we can't truly see ourselves or those we care about because the background absorbs us into it. To leap out of all that changes us. Drastically. And perhaps it allows you to graze truths you did not know you knew."

This book has so long been on my to read list. I have heard so many people rave about the book and even more the movie that came from it. I have not seen the movie because generally I always try and read the book first. (The book is always better, right?) I suppose all that set high expectations in my mind. Having read it, I am unsure. Did the book suffered from high expectations, or am I not the reader for this book? Perhaps, I enjoyed glimpses of the story but overall found it challenging to stay engaged in this meandering memoir.

A brief summary of this book would be as follows. Find the perfect house. (Big caveats: Is there such a thing as a perfect house? Would you have the ability to afford it as Frances Mayes did?) Go through the trials and tribulations of a real estate transaction across continents and currency exchanges. Enjoy something about the house or make a discovery. Find another repair or renovation still to be done. Find some interesting character who can do it but who does it in their own way and on their own schedule. In between, cook some Italian food which always turns out amazing. Repeat many times from the start to the finish of the book.

Buy an old house and spend years restoring it. Sounds like life. Buy an old house as a summer home in Tuscany and spend several summers restoring it. Now, it's a story set in the beauty of Tuscany and brimming with what should be delightful characters, culture, and food. Add recipes and you should have even more. Unfortunately, for me, the book stops well short of delightful.

As the preface states, this book is based on a notebook the author has kept since her first summer in Italy which evolved into "a chronicle of our first four years here" and then further evolved into this book. That explains the loose structure of the book. It is like a series of essays or travel articles strung together on a chronological string. The chapter headings are topical, for example, Summer Kitchen Notes, Cortona Noble City, and Rose Walk. Summer Kitchen Notes along with Winter Kitchen Notes are literally that - a couple of pages of text descriptions like the ingredients they transport to Italy followed by a set of recipes. Each chapter in the book could likely be published and read as a stand alone article, but does not necessarily flow one into the next. I don't walk away with a sense of story, and that is what I miss in this book.

Some paragraphs and phrases stand out and capture my attention because they capture the beauty of the area and sometimes they capture an idea that resonates. It is these glimpses that keep me reading through the book. For the most part, though, the book reflects a stream of consciousness journal and travelogue, and I can only read so much of that. I wonder if I should perhaps try the movie?

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment