Book Review: One Summer in Venice by Nicky Pellegrino
I readily admit I love the middle aged heroine having so much going wrong in her life that she decides to escape her problems by making a sea or tree change to find herself trope, so I was keen as mustard to read this book. There was also the promise of foodporn as the main character, Dolly, is a chef. But…
I was really disappointed.
The novel is written in Dolly’s first person point of view. This should have endeared me to the character due to the intimacy this style always evokes, but unfortunately I never warmed to Dolly at all. In fact, I thought she was pretty much a self absorbed alcoholic bore.
Dolly goes on a week long holiday to Venice, to get away after her restaurant is given a bad review. Her week away soon turns into a whole summer, leaving behind her restaurant, husband, and daughter in London to fare for themselves. As a mother I just couldn’t understand this mentality. To make her even less appealing to my deep maternal side, she rarely even calls her daughter. But hey, she’s doing what makes her happy…
Dolly is slightly stalkerish. We’re introduced to many supporting characters, most of whom she basically bugs or follows around until they become her ‘friend’. Not once, but several times in the book she notes that the supporting characters, ‘don’t seem to remember her’. Get a clue, Dolly, they’re trying to avoid you!
I would also call Dolly a huge busybody. She sticks her nose into everyone’s business. She continually laments the fact that Venetians are tight lipped and secretive. It’s so annoying, especially when these are people she’s known for all of a few weeks, and she expects them to tell her all the details of their past relationships etc etc. If Dolly had been a writer, or a journalist, or some other occupation where that sort of thing feels like second nature, it might have fit into the plot easier. However, it’s rather unnerving for a chef to want to desperately know the ins and outs of all her acquaintances’ lives.
In particular, she focuses on her landlady Coco’s life. Even though Coco’s story is way more interesting than Dolly’s, I was put off by Pellegrino’s need to offer us a huge information dump near the end explaining the details.
If you’re looking for a bit of romance this isn’t the book for you either. There are hints of it here and there, but I didn’t feel any desperate need to pair up Dolly with any of the likely candidates. (Dolly claims she’s gorgeous and men often are attracted to her. Whatever…)
Nor was I particularly worried who any of the supporting characters would be in a relationship with at the end of the book (shocking for me, as I have a terrible habit of yearning for not only the leads but the supporting characters to be nicely paired off at the end of books/tv shows/movies).
I have to give the book a point for the setting. Venice is just so beautiful, even in print. I have visited there once, way too briefly, when I was young, and I think I need to add a return trip to my bucket list.
The food porn is also there, and I did enjoy the food descriptions. Dolly’s passion for food, however, is questionable. She likes to eat more than she likes to cook, in my opinion.
She also develops a new found passion for dancing — dancing to the Argentine Tango in particular. That idea, although it sounds romantic, doesn’t seem to fit into her plot, and I sometimes got the impression Dolly only wanted to dance as all her ‘friends’ danced. I would have preferred Dolly and Pellegrino had stuck with the food theme. It would have been more satisfied if her apparent love of food was shown by Dolly actively pursuing some sort of chef’s position in Venice; or even a diary/journal filled with recipes/food she was tasting. This would have made more sense than the dancing.
Instead of romance we mostly get Dolly navel gazing or describing clothes in the book (even though Dolly claims to have no interest in fashion). Painting and glass making is touched on, and I would have enjoyed more scenes involving them. There’s also descriptions of multiple parties Dolly attends. Oh, and copious drinking. And Dolly’s subsequent hangovers. (I believe Dolly’s at an age where having such hangovers is just sad and pathetic.)
In the end, I disliked more in this book than I liked and I’d only recommend if you were interested in Venice, Italian food, or Argentine dancing.
2 1/2 out of 5