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BOOK REVIEW: A Year at Hotel Gondola by Nicky Pellegrino

| 3 October 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: A Year at Hotel Gondola by Nicky Pellegrino

Hachette New Zealand Ltd
March 2018
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Fiction / Contemporary Romance


They say you’ve never been to Venice until you’ve gotten lost there. Nicky Pellegrino’s breezy romance novel does offer some opportunities to do just that. She captures the real Venice – from the hustle and bustle of the tourist hotspots to the places the locals love. A Year at Hotel Gondola is the tenth novel from this journalist and it is a pleasant and at times rather indulgent Italian affair.

There is no sadder feeling than being jealous of your own life. Do you know what I mean? Have you ever been envious of the girl you once were? Looked back on your past and realised it was more exciting than your future is set to be? Have you ever felt that way? Because right now I’m doing my best to make sure I won’t…
I’ve made myself a promise – even if I live till I’m a hundred I’ll never be a homebody.
I’m planning for things to get more interesting as I get older, not less. I won’t be wasting time. And I’m not going to be jealous of my own life. Not ever.

This story focuses on Kat Black, an independent lady who is a famous, international globe-trotter. She has hosted her own television travel programs. Not one to sit still; her latest project sees Black traversing a different road.

‘This is going to be my biggest adventure yet,’ she had promised when she was pitching the concept. ‘Kat Black experiences the one journey she has never taken before – a relationship.’

… A year in this watery shadowy city; learning to be Venetian, to eat and love like them. When Kat had dreamed up the idea it seemed the answer to her problems. Now she wondered if all she had done was create a whole lot more. A book to conjure out of nothing was one thing; a relationship to negotiate was quite another – particularly as she and Massimo were so new to one another.

Kat has turned 50 and her mother believes she will be lucky to have 20 more years of this life. This cuts Kat to the bone. She doesn’t want to be envious about her younger self; she simply wants to have some new adventures. This is what drives her to spend a year in Venice getting to know her new boyfriend Massimo and to write a book all about it.

‘To me it almost seems like two cities,’ explained Kat. There is the Venice of the Venetians and then the place the tourists experience…
What I’d really like is to find my way into it. I’m supposed to be writing a book about the real Venice.’
‘Good luck.’
‘You’ve lived here for a long time you must know the city well.’
“Perhaps if you try to seek out the real Venice, it only becomes harder to find,’ said Zita.
‘So what do you suggest?’
‘Wait for it to find you?’

This novel alternates between two different kinds of chapters. One sees the story unfolding in real-time and is told in the third person. The others are chapters from Black’s imagined book and are written in the first person. While it is an interesting idea to have a book set within one, this structure doesn’t work well. The chapters from Black’s work mostly repeat what has already transpired so they fail to add much to the overall story. This alternating perspective can also be quite jarring for the reader.

Kat walked slowly, letting herself get lost. In the middle of this sun-baked day the campi were deserted and the neighbourhood seemed slower and sleepier. Only as she skirted Piazza San Marco did she strike the other Venice, with its streets clogged with tourists, brash waiters calling out for customers and shop doorways strung with the same cheap leather handbags that were sold all over the city.

Pellegrino has done an excellent job of capturing the gastronomic delights here, just like in her previous novels. The recipes will leave you wanting to get to the cucina (kitchen) to try them. The descriptions of food are really mouth-watering and the choice of dishes feel authentic to the Venetian setting, so Pellegrino has done her research:

‘The food here is understated, but they do the classics well,’ he told me.
We began with the carpaccio, paper-thin slices of beef drizzled with a lemony mayonnaise. Then a risotto of tender squid, richly sauced by its own black ink, with every forkful colouring our mouths, so we’d keep pausing to dab our faces clean…
Next we shared a salad of plump scallops, peppery rocket and sweet balsamic vinegar. And even though our appetites were flagging we finished with a dish of cinnamon-poached pears and two glasses of the Moscato d’Asti.
‘The perfect Harry’s Bar meal,’ said Massimo, clinking his glass against mine.

The characters in this novel could do with some work. Black’s love interest, Massimo is distant for the majority of this story. This leaves him feeling under-realised, especially when the beautifully-written rival, Dante shows up. Kat also seems a tad uneven in the way she approaches different scenarios. But Pellegrino should be commended for the character, Coco. She’s a wise and stylish woman with many lovers who runs a vintage fashion shop. Most people would love a little Coco in their lives.

There is this thing that happens when you meet someone else who loves food. You kind of accept that everything is seen through a lens of how it can be cooked and eaten. Dante loves to create new flavour combinations. It’s his driving force in life. And out here on the water chatting with him, I realised how much I needed that same passion and excitement.

A Year at Hotel Gondola is a good little summer read because it is a sweet sojourn to Venice. Pellegrino captures the better aspects of this city in vivid detail. A Year at Hotel Gondola may not be perfect, but this meal certainly has some tasty elements that one can enjoy.

Category: Book Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at:

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