Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

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Cannonball Read V: Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

By DoingDewey | Book Reviews | November 14, 2013 | Comments ()


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.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it, and for more of DoingDewey’s reviews, check out their eponymous blog.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • I read the book long before the movie came out. And the movie didn't sound like anything I wanted to see, but not because I loved the book so much.

    I actually disliked the book. It read like stories of a woman who wanted to live in a fantasy, and the droll locals she encountered and how they amused her. Yes, it took a lot of work to make that house livable, but the way she wrote about the people just drove me nuts.

    I had the feeling that she had read A Year in Provence, and decided that she wanted to be Peter Mayle, and . . . well, she wasn't.

  • I could definitely see where she might come across as a bit condescending! I enjoyed it because her experiences were fun to live vicariously, but I'm sure it's not for everyone :)

  • Classic

    Her subsequent novels got worse with lack of plotting but also ugly American syndrome started rearing its ugly head.

  • Captain_Tuttle

    I love the movie, because I am a sap. I never read the book, but it's going on the list. Thanks for the review!

  • I enjoyed the movie too! It wasn't much like the book, but it was a fun, light romantic comedy and I enjoyed :)

  • Twillahiss

    I love the movie too but probably because Diane Lane is so incredibly beautiful. If she were to ever star in a movie with Angela Bassett, I think my brain would explode.

  • She is! I thought the movie in general was really beautiful too. Give me a movie set in the Italian countryside any day!

  • Twillahiss

    You might enjoy this:


  • Oh wow, thanks for passing this along! This is just gorgeous.

  • chanohack

    One of my resolutions this January will be to read 24 books next year. (I'm very self-concious that this might be a really low number to some people and it might seem like a stupid goal, but I'm dyslexic and an editor and therefore a painfully slow reader, so it's a challenge for me, so BACK OFF, IMAGINARY HATERS.) I'm adding this book to the list based on this review!

  • Wonderful! I think setting a goal to read more than you usually do is always good :)

  • mswas

    Why not add two to your vow of 24 and sign up for a 1/2 Cannonball for Cannonball Read 6? Keep an eye on the group blog for details: http://cannonballread5.wordpre...

  • chanohack

    Well... it's already a pretty ambitious goal for me (I've been dutifully reading Team of Rivals for almost three months already-- granted it's pretty dry and 754 pages, but still, I'm like really slow). I'm reluctant to set a goal that I feel like I can't meet because if I can't I spiral into failure depression.

    In short, sounds scary. But I'm pondering it.

  • BWeaves

    I hated the movie, except for the great dress she wore in the final party scene.

    I was hoping for more of a This Old House Goes To Italy thing.

    I loved the Mitford books, so I may have to give this one a read.

  • Ah, that's too bad. It's possible you might enjoy the book anyway though, since the two actually had very little in common!

  • Sara_Tonin00

    This one is not quite This Old House, but it is very much about the humorous frustrations of fixing up a Tuscan farmhouse.


    It's an easy, fun read. Pleasant armchair escapism.

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