Cannonball Read V: Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
First let me tell you what Under the Tuscan Sun isn’t. It’s nothing like the movie; it’s not a romance; and it isn’t even a book with much of a plot. Instead, it’s a beautiful collection of anecdotes loosely tied together by the progression of time. The primary focus is on the author’s experiences restoring a Tuscan villa, but her focus on food is a close second. Some of her experiences as a tourist remind me of a travel memoir, but I particularly enjoyed the other parts that describe the experience of actually living in Italy.
I read a lot of reviews before starting this book, and they were a surprisingly mixed bag. There are both people who loved the book for its beauty and people who hated the book for its rambling and its discussions of food. Having read it, I can see where both groups are coming from. The writing is amazing. The author’s descriptions make it possible to see the beauty of Tuscany and her philosophical musings were both insightful and relatable. I enjoyed her descriptions of food and was excited she included so many recipes. This book also had a certain charm shared by Dewey and At Home in Mitford. The author’s life in Italy just seems so wonderful and simple, that reading about is relaxing and refreshing.
A bigger problem is what many of the very negative reviews noted. No, not that the book was not like the movie, although that complaint was common. The bigger problem was that the book had no plot, no forward drive. There were a few chapters where the author didn’t discuss the renovation of the house and these felt particularly disconnected. Even the chapters that were tied together by her progress renovating contained random anecdotes and musings, plus a heavy focus on food, which could make things drag. Basically, the author is very good at beautiful and philosophical writing; at writing about landscapes and food; at telling amusing anecdotes; and at sharing just enough of her background that you can understand the memories new things call to mind. She’s not very good at organizing things, and there really is no plot. So if you’re looking for a romantic description of Italy, this is the book for you. If you’re looking for an actual romance, just watch the movie.
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