Reviewed by Laura Stanning
Reviewed by Laura Stanning
I had a good feeling about this book from the start – its beautiful cover of a sun-drenched turquoise wall with a tree branch waving over it, heavy with ripe lemons, made me think instantly of summer holidays. It seemed to promise a relaxing, feelgood read – and the elegance of the cover made me suspect that Recipe for Life was more than just your average summer beach read.
But it was only once I’d finished that I realised what an amazing book this is. On a basic level, it’s a wonderful and enchanting read, not to mention beautifully written – Pellegrino has a fantastic gift for subtly bringing a world to life so you can see it vividly in your mind – and almost smell the incredible meals being cooked up! I adored it, but initially I couldn’t work out why I loved it so much – after all, lots of authors create sympathetic characters and fabulous fantasy worlds, don’t they? They do – and that’s exactly why Recipe for Life is so magical. Because the world Pellegrino creates isn’t perfect, and nor are the people who inhabit it. They’re just like us – sometimes confused, sometimes unhappy, and struggling to find the right career choice and the right person for them. And because of that they’re characters that you can really understand and like.
Alice is right at the beginning of life. Just graduated from university and traumatised by a burglary gone wrong she flees to London, determined to pack all she can into every second. Discovering that cooking fulfils her, she throws herself into work, shutting out all that’s happened to her. As her life moves ever faster Alice feels that she’s losing control and when her friend Leila asks her to come and stay at her mother’s house in Italy, Alice gladly accepts.
Babetta’s body is telling her that she’s coming to the end of her days, although she doesn’t feel ready for it. She has spent a lifetime tending her tiny garden on the Mediterranean coast and keeping the garden of the big house next door in good order and, with her own daughter long grown up, her life has fallen into a slow and gentle pattern.
When Alice and Babetta meet they are drawn together by their shared love of cooking and food, despite not speaking a word of each other’s language. In the heat of a Mediterranean summer love affairs begin, friendships crumble and the lives of all three women are changed. And, years later, the denouement of their stories will be played out under the same Italian skies.
The other reason that Recipe for Life is so unique is that it’s truly a book for women. Obviously it’s chicklit (well, in the sense that I don’t really see it appealing to boys) but more than that it’s one of the first books I’ve read where the heroes are the women. Not that they’re perfect – they can be as jealous and as petty as the next person – but they’re strong. They make mistakes but they survive what life throws at them and they keep going. The men are definitely weaker. None of them are bad people – they’re all endearing characters but they struggle to commit, they lose their drive, they don’t always do the right thing. Through the lives of Alice, Babetta and the rest of her cast of characters, Pellegrino explores what it means to be a woman, young and old, and reminds you that not every happy ending needs a hero.
This is one of those books you want to read and reread – I enjoyed it even more the second time around. It’s endearing, entertaining and inspiring and makes you realise that, as the quote at the start of the book reads, “your time is limited, so don’t waste it leading someone else’s life”.
9/10Buy Recipe for Life!