A Novel About Food, Recipes Included: A Book Review

Angelina’s Bachelors is an unlikely novel with a female protagonist penned by Brian O’ Reilly, the creator of Food Network’s Dinner: Impossible. Having written two cookbooks prior, his first effort at fiction parlays his aspiration to write fiction. A thick book, it’s an easy, breezy read especially for those who love food and food-centric prose.

The tale centers on a too-young-to-be-a widow, Angelina D’Angelo, whose husband’s last act before dying was to exert supreme effort to taste his wife’s chocolate cake. “… extended two fingers the whole way across the table, scooped out a crumbly, nutty, succulent morsel, and by instinct, guided it into his mouth. He smiled a sweet smile. His last breath was a sigh of pure delight.”

Such description prepares the reader for the fact that this woman’s cooking must be akin to tasting manna from heaven. Fraught with despair, Angelina cooks away her sorrows and is left with so much food that she distributes the largesse to her neighbors in the Italian-American community she lives in in Philadelphia. So taken is one retiree by her food that he offers Angelina a peculiar job: to cook two meals a day for him, six days a week. Before long, she finds herself feeding seven bachelors. The plot seems almost too easy, and I can hear you saying skeptically, “Yeah, and she falls in love with one of them and they live happily ever after, yadda yadda.” Not quite.

First, this is a story for the food lover, a story deeply steeped in the Italian culinary life such as the Feast of Fishes, flashbacks to Angelina’s food-filled, family-centered childhood, etc. Sentences are so laden with food images and so easy to visualize that one can’t help but think what a delicious life this author must live: “Angelina stole a glance at her and dipped into the bowl, seduced by the aroma of toast laced with sweet and savory garlic, mingled with the soothing sustenance of good chicken broth. She sipped and felt warm comfort spread…”

O’Neill deftly intersperses the tempting text with recipes. Mouths will water at the description of a layered lasagna bound with four cheeses or a few chapters away, be mesmerized by imaginings of a swarthy osso buco with egg noodles and capers. What a delight to turn the page and be gifted with the recipe! There’s also so much description given to the cooking process that it can make non-cooks believe they can cook, and for frequent cooks, affirm what they already know: that cooking heals. There’s a helpful recipe list at the book’s end, but it will have more meaning if you wait and read it in relation to the story.

The book keeps good pace, seducing with its recipes. Written in the third person, it focuses not just on Angelina’s point of view, but on several of the other major characters allowing the reader a fuller grasp of the plot. Because of this technique employed by the author, one gets to know the other characters and is enabled to empathize with them further into the novel. Equal concentration is also given to events happening outside this so-called supper club so the story’s perspective doesn’t seem so myopic.

Having lulled yourself to near starvation with such luscious prose, and wondering when it will end, O’Neill suddenly wakes up his readers with a surprise development; truly something no one could have seen coming. But its revelation won’t take away from the book’s succulence. It’ll only make you want to finish the book as quickly as possible and then make yourself some of that lasagna. (Psst, it’s on page 85).

My rating: ????/5


Angelina’s Bachelors: A Novel with Food
By Brian O’Reilly
Paperback, 384 pages, Wiley
P599.00 at all Fully Booked Stores .

This book is part of my Lori’s Book Picks for February. Click image on the sidebar for a discount.

See my other book reviews here.

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