Today’s team review is from Frank.
Find out more about him here https://franklparker.com/
Franks has been reading Tales From The Hamlet by Cassandra Campbell-Kemp
Having recently completed reading two books that featured the horrors of World War Two, seeing this book on Rosie Amber’s list of books for review offered a refreshing change. I am also a sucker for those escapist TV programmes like “A Place in the Sun”, “Escape to the Chateau”, “Great Railway Journeys” and those in which a celebrity chef takes us on a gastronomic tour of some lesser known region, sampling the artisan produce and traditional recipes.
This book follows that pattern. It begins in Verona where Cassandra has just been informed that her services are no longer required. She is in her sixties, not in the best of health and her 30 year career in property sales and development is seemingly over. She faces an uncertain future. Fortunately she has friends and former business associates to whom she can turn for assistance, which is how she finds herself in a region of Northern Italy that she has not previously visited.
Her explorations of the geography, gastronomy, history and culture of the region form the bulk of the book. It is written in an easily accessible style. Her love of everything about the place and its people shines through. And there are cats. Who doesn’t love everything about cats? If social media is anything to go by, no-one! There is the queenly Geisha, Cass’s own aloof Persian, and Mimi the feline mistress in charge of a bevy of farm cats. All recognise in Cass someone whose attention is worth cultivating. So too, it seems, do many of the local proprietors of coffee shops, wineries and the artisan producers of bread, meat, wine and cheese.
There are many delightful descriptions of the villages and ancient buildings, both exterior and interior. One of Cass’s new friends is a member of a male choir and there are a couple of moving depictions of choral performances. Why then, you might wonder, only 3 stars|? Firstly, though the writing is good, this is no literary masterpiece. Secondly it is not a book with an important message to convey about life and relationships. Like those TV programmes I referred to at the beginning, it is informative and entertaining, an easy bedtime read.
By the end Cass seems to be on the verge of a new career promoting the region to potential second home owners and developers. The cynic in me whispers that the book is surely a part of that process, however, it appears that the new venture was cruelly postponed by the Covid pandemic; Cass has written elsewhere about her pandemic isolation back home in Wiltshire. For the same reason the sequel promised to at the end of the book will not now happen. One message that does come across is that Cass is a strong and resourceful woman, well able to take unexpected reversals of fortune in her stride.
At the age of 61, Cassandra, a single and peripatetic Brit, was asked to pack up her house and move to Italy to take up the offer of a much-needed job. 15 months later she was made redundant, leaving her unnerved, broke and unable to return home. Her dream of a new life was rapidly turning into a nightmare and, saddled with all her belongings, her antique furniture, over 800 books and her aged Siamese cat she had nowhere to go.
A kind friend offered them sanctuary in a tiny converted former barn in his family’s ‘Borgo’, a cluster of rustic properties grouped around a late-Medieval manor House in the mountains; the beautiful and mysterious Emilian Appenines of northern Italy. There she was befriended and watched over by the owner; an eccentric octogenarian, his household ghosts and 14 semi feral cats.
The experience proved to be challenging yet deeply transformative as she struggled to recover her equilibrium and rebuild her life.