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Seattle Times: "James Hamilton-Paterson's campy comic saga about hack writer and 'culinary genius' Gerald Samper."

Date: Dec 23 2008

"Rancid Pansies" is the third installment in British author James Hamilton-Paterson's campy comic saga about hack writer and self-styled "culinary genius" Gerald Samper. At this stage, trying to bring readers up to date on Gerry's misadventures is a bit like attempting to make sense of a Fellini dream sequence.

Tuscan villa tumbling down a mountainside while Gerry and his guests, flying high on Chianti and magic mushrooms, barely escape with their lives?

Check.

A one-armed yachtswoman — the subject of Samper's latest sports biography — meeting an untimely, world-televised end as she sails into Sydney Harbor?

Check.

You get the picture.

In this sequel to "Cooking with Fernet Branca" and "Amazing Disgrace," things continue on an equally lunatic note. A casual remark by Gerry about Princess Diana being "our national Madonna" accidentally triggers a frenzied religious cult in the small Italian town where he lives. It also prompts Gerry to co-write an opera about Britain's royal family with his much-despised neighbor Marta, a composer from Voynovia — an Eastern European country you won't find on any map.

Groan-inducing puns and relentless anagrams (take close note of the book's title) pepper the text as Gerry holds forth on gardens as "nasty bourgeois things," cannibalism's "gastronomic potential" and the burdens of having exquisite taste.

"It's no fun being an aesthete," he laments. "One's sensibilities are being constantly outraged."

The new ingredient in Hamilton-Paterson's comic formula is the voice of Adrian, Gerry's sensible oceanographer boyfriend, who serves as a welcome palate-cleanser after such dinner-table horrors as "Mice Krispies," "Kim Jong Eel" and "Acorn Polenta with Sparrow Sauce." Thanks to Adrian's commentary, Gerry's culinary and artistic ambitions-frustrations have a poignancy that lends the book some unexpected weight.

That said, it does feel like time for Gerry to retire and for Europa to make American readers more aware of what a gifted, versatile writer Hamilton-Paterson is. They'll start doing that next summer with a reprint of his 1992 meditation on all things oceanic, "Seven-Tenths: The Sea and Its Thresholds" (originally published in the U.S. as "The Great Deep"). I'd also urge them to bring "The Ghosts of Manila," his brilliant 1994 novel drawing on his experiences in the Philippines, back to print ASAP.