Black Swan, £6.99 stg
Lily Prior's debut novel plunges headfirst into the heady world of Sicilian life with its accompanying passions for life, love, family and cooking. After the tragic death of her first love, Bartolomeo, Rosa Fiore buried herself in her family kitchen and cooked unendingly, making so much pasta, bread, tomato sauce and preserves that the produce fed her family for years.
Leaving home in the wake of her cooking frenzy, Rosa moved from the village to the city of Palermo with her parrot and suitcase, and got a job as a librarian. Twenty-five years later, the solitary Rosa only expresses her passions through her cooking – until the mysterious l'Inglese walks into the library, and her life.
In the vein of Laura Esquivel ('Like Water for Chocolate') and Joanne Harris ('Chocolat' and 'Blackberry Wine'), Prior writes about cooking in a sensual, and almost sexual manner, lovingly describing how to make traditional Sicilian dishes such as Sfincione, Pasticcio and Timballo.
When she focuses on food, she can do little wrong. However, with Rosa's description of her birth on the huge oak table in the cucina of her childhood, Prior seems to have taken more than a little inspiration from Laura Esquivel. The story too, feels truncated and slightly unfinished. Read 'La Cucina' for mouthwatering and fascinating food fantasies but don't expect too much more.