Although I have to appreciate that this novel was one of Pellegrino’s older works, I must admit I was extremely disappointed. Having read two other novels for Pellegrino. Food of Love Cookery School and Under Italian Skies I can say that I have had a very similar gripe with both of them too.
The characters always lack depth and personality because she crams too many people into the story. I can understand that they were all imperative to the progress of the story, but nevertheless she could do much more justice to the novel by focusing on a few central characters. I say this particularly because Pellegrino has a knack for descriptions. I really feel she could do a lot more to connect the reader with the characters using her beautiful descriptive writing power if she focused on a few rather than many.
Recipe for Life is narrated by Alice and Babetta, two women with diametrically opposed lives who tie their worlds together after a series of unfortunate events.
Alice has suffered a major tragedy in her life after a strange man breaks into her house and rapes her, and shortly after her long term boyfriend takes up with another girl. She begins living with her “charming” and artistic friend Leila – who spends her nights in art exhibitions and after parties coming home with a new guy each time.
Alice starts working in a restaurant and meets a recovering-alcoholic French chef who becomes her friend and mentor. After living somewhat of a dreary monotonous life, Alice’s best friend Leila bids her to accompany her to Italy to see the new house her wildly talented artist of a mother has purchased there.
Tonino, the owner of the restaurant which Alice is working at, tells her that it would be good for her to spend the Summer in Italy learning how to “be passionate” about food and coincidentally discovers that Alice is going to the exact area where his parents live.
Alice goes to Italy with Leila where she meets Leila’s mum, Tonino’s parents and also Babetta, the old lady who lives next door. Babetta lives with her semi-senile husband and comes to the house everyday to tend to the garden of Villa Rosa. They are unable to converse with one another due to the language barrier and Alice isn’t really endeared by her at all. She even calls her husband “a weirdo”.
It is important to note that this is the most exciting part of the book. The Summer they spend in Italy as 20-something year old girls. Visiting markets, eating delicious food, and swimming in glittering waters. From here forward the book just goes downhill.
At the end of their stay, Alice meets Lucio – Tonino’s brother. She falls head over heels in love with him, but from his distant actions and friendly conversation she quickly understands that the feeling isn’t mutual. When Leila meets him, she very quickly sweeps him up into her charm and before long she is sleeping with him. Alice becomes the matyr- stepping aside to allow her friend who was never really a caring or thoughtful “have him”.
I never found Leila to be charming, rather her character was self centred and spoilt. Alice did extremely well in feeling sorry for herself throughout the entirety of the novel even when she takes up her relationship with Tonino, living with him in the most awkward – secret relationship format that was neither a nice love story, nor realistic.
The book was promising in the beginning but very quickly became messy. I slightly felt that Pellegrino was unsure how to end it and I extremely deflated when I arrived to the last chapter.
Unfortunately it isn’t a book that I would recommend to my friends at would rate it 1/5 with a read at your own discretion. I’m happy to see that the stories of Pellegrino improved as many of her later works were a lot better and despite the aforementioned cramming of characters, her later stories have a lot more depth.