Prior, Lily 1966–
Prior, Lily 1966–
PERSONAL: Born 1966.
CAREER: Novelist, 2000–.
AWARDS, HONORS: First Novel Award runner up, Guildford Arts Book Prize, 2004, for La Cucina.
La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture, HarperCollins Publishers (New York, NY), 2000.
Nectar: A Novel of Temptation, Ecco (New York, NY), 2002.
Ardor: A Novel of Enchantment, Ecco (New York, NY), 2004.
Cabaret: A Roman Riddle (novel), Ecco (New York, NY), 2005.
Prior's books have been translated into French, Dutch, German, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish, among other languages.
ADAPTATIONS: La Cucina was optioned for film by Paramount Pictures; Nectar was optioned for a Broadway musical.
SIDELIGHTS: Lily Prior is a British novelist whose works are often "set in a lush, rural Italian landscape where women have scents that set the hillsides a-tingle and food has supernatural properties," as New York Times Book Review critic Liesl Schillinger noted. In Prior's debut title, La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture, she blends her love of Italian cooking and of travel in a novel that a reviewer for Publishers Weekly found "sumptuously appointed, celebratory, and sensuous." Set in Sicily, the book traces the romantic adventures of Rosa Fiore, who grows up taking care of kitchen duties for her large and diverse family. Her one romance is with Bartollomeo, who is tragically murdered when Rosa is eighteen years old. Thereafter, Rosa goes to Palermo where she becomes a librarian and hides away both from cooking and love until a mysterious Englishman appears one day to reawaken old passions. Researching the Sicilian cooking of Rosa's youth, he becomes involved in a food-and-sex affair with the woman that ends as suddenly as it begins, leaving Rosa once again bereft.
A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called La Cucina a "mouth-watering blend of commedia dell'arte and Greek tragedy," and an "award-winning recipe for pleasure." Barbara Fisher, writing in the Boston Globe, was less impressed, however, and wrote that the elements of the story "never come to a good rolling boil." Fisher continued the cooking metaphor: "The ingredients here are good but far from fresh, and they are mixed together into a ragout that tastes flat and stale." Other reviewers found more to like in the novel, Library Journal critic Beth E. Andersen calling it "clever, untamed, funny, and at times shocking."
Nectar: A Novel of Temptation once again blends aspects of magical realism with erotic play in the tale of an overweight albino chambermaid, Ramona Drottoveo, whose scent drives men crazy. She services and is serviced by most of the men on the sprawling estate on which she works. Then a three-day romance leads to marriage with the estate's beekeeper. However, only a day into the marriage her infidelity drives her new husband to commit suicide. Thereafter Ramona and her new paramour take off for Naples where new misadventures await this "seductive antiheroine," as a critic for Publishers Weekly described Ramona. The same reviewer dubbed the novel a "Technicolor fairy tale," but warned that "one may tire of Ramona long before she gets her well-deserved comeuppance." For this same reviewer, the episodic nature of the story is a problem: magic intervenes whenever the plot lags or characters meet obstacles. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews noted that Prior continues to "mine hackneyed peasant lore in [this] fairy tale," but also went on to call the novel "a goofy commedia dell'arte."
Nancy McKeon, in the Washington Post Book World, felt that "it's probably fair to call Nectar a romp, but probably not a fable." McKeon pointed out that fables are intended to have a moral lesson, but that Prior's "lively but baffling tale" reads "more like a bawdy Chaucer tale." Carolyn Kubisz, writing in Booklist, had higher praise, concluding that "Prior once again explores the power of the senses in a lush and bawdy tale of sex, desire, and the certainty of retribution." Similarly, People reviewer rica Sanders found Nectar "hilarious," as well as a "witty, well-spun yarn."
Ardor: A Novel of Enchantment again blends food, sex, Italy, and magical moments. This time, Prior tips her hat to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, adopting that play's main conceit of a love potion that makes a person fall in love with the very next live creature he or she sees, and placing that theme, as Liesl Schillinger of the New York Times Book Review noted, "amid a filigree of deadpan magic realism." Once again Italian village life comes put under Prior's lens, as Arcadio Carnabuci, an olive grower who is unlucky in love, buys love seeds from a Gypsy peddler. When his crop is ripe, Carnabuci devours it. The next creature that comes along is not a human female; instead it is the mule Gezebel, the narrator of the tale, who forms an instant attraction for the olive grower. Her affections are not returned, for Carnabuci is in love with sexy Fernanda Ponderosa, who, in turn, is in love with her brother-in-law, Primo Castorini. Soon the entire village of Norcia is consumed by the love business.
A critic for Kirkus Reviews found Ardor "precious" in the pejorative sense, and further complained that there is "nothing so mundane" as a plot to be found in the book. Schillinger had similar doubts about Prior's "hothouse fantasy," but concluded that "in the dream of summer, no romantic reverie needs much scrutiny." Reviewing the novel for Booklist, Carol Haggas called Ardor an "irresistibly funny, subtly wise, and zestfully romantic fairy tale."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 15, 2000, Michael Spinella, review of La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture, p. 619; June 1, 2002, Carolyn Kubisz, review of Nectar: A Novel of Temptation, p. 1687; June 1, 2004, Carol Haggas, review of Ardor: A Novel of Enchantment, p. 1705.
Boston Globe, December 31, 2000, Barbara Fisher, review of La Cucina, p. L2.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2002, review of Nectar, p. 606; May 15, 2004, review of Ardor, p. 465.
Library Journal, November 1, 2000, Beth E. Andersen, review of La Cucina, p. 137.
New York Times Book Review, July 25, 2004, Liesl Schillinger, "Eat to Love and Love to Eat," review of Ardor, p. 8.
People, August 5, 2002, Erica Sanders, review of Nectar, p. 3.
Publishers Weekly, October 9, 2000, review of La Cucina, p. 71; May 6, 2002, review of Nectar, p. 34.
Washington Post Book World, July 21, 2002, Nancy McKeon, review of Nectar, p. T3.
BookBrowse.com, http://www.bookbrowse.com/ (February 25, 2005), "Lily Prior Interview."
HarperCollins Web site, http://www.harpercollins.com/ (February 25, 2005), "Lily Prior."
Lily Prior Home Page, http://www.lilyprior.com (February 25, 2005).