Thursday, June 07, 2007

Tuscany for Beginners - by Imogen Edwards-Jones

It has been 5 years since Belinda discovered her husband in bed with the next door neighbour. After the divorce she moved to Tuscany and opened an exclusive Bed and Breakfast establishment. Over those five years she has built up a small group of ex-pat friends and gotten involved in several local events. She has even started to write a book about her experiences, peppered with her rustic Italian recipes. Yet this summer her world will be turned on its head. This summer a new resident moves into her valley, and she too has decided to open an exclusive Bed and Breakfast. How will Belinda cope with her new competition, who not only wants her business but her social life as well?

This book is the latest read in the book club I have joined. Again, like the previous book I read for this club (see my review of 'Telling Tales' by Ann Cleeves) it was not a book I would normally pick up. To be honest it will continue to be the sort of book I never pick up! From start to finish I found I hated this book. The storyline did not interest me, I did not like any of the characters at all and I felt reading this book had been a waste of my time.

The main character Belinda sounds an absolute nightmare. Lazy, self-obsessed and devoid of basic customer service skills (a necessity one would think when running a B&B). She is a downright snob, who looks down on just about everyone in one way or another. Quite frankly I would not wish to stay at her establishment if it were the last on earth. I can also understand why her husband had an affair with the neighbour. Her fellow ex-pats are also utterly unlovable. They sound like the typical caricatures of Brits abroad, not willing to eat like or rub shoulders with the locals, who spend most of their time working on their tan or paying for new palm trees or swimming pools. The American (Lauren) who competes against Belinda is hard to like too. Although she manages everything much better than Belinda she still comes across as vindictive and selfish. Even the characters we probably should feel sympathetic towards (Belinda's daughter and Lauren's soon) some across as spineless, weak and uninteresting.

The story is meant to be comic but I felt it was all too forced. It was too much of a caricature of the worst of human behaviour. The humour was obvious and unfunny. A lot of the plot seemed fanciful, especially the ending, and it all came across as some bad dream.

It comes as no surprised therefore that the author helped write the scripts for the BBC drama 'Hotel Babylon'. It too suffers from caricatures rather than characters and lots of unfunny humour.

It's a shame that this book does no justice to Tuscany. Although I have not been to Tuscany I have been to Italy on numerous occasions and would recommend to everyone to visit. This book rather puts you off visiting the country which is a real shame.

I would not recommend this book to anyone. I am certain there are better 'ex-pat' novels than this out there and I'd love the chance to read them and restore my faith in this genre. Suggestions gratefully received!

*1 star*

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