The Scent for Infatuation

Book Review of Nectar: A Novel of Temptation” by Lily Prior

nectar2This novel is almost pure fantasy, as opposed to this author’s first work, which was mostly reality-based. While the story and people and events in “La Cucina” could actually have existed (despite some of the unusual bits), unless there’s some amazingly missed documentation out there, it is doubtful that many of the characters and proceedings in this story could actually happen in real life. However, this isn’t some type of Tolkien or Pratchett-like fantasy, nor something from outer space. No, this is more like a fairy-tale, complete with a moral!

Set (again) in Italy this is the story of the unjustly snobbish, unattractive, albino servant, Ramona Drottoveo, whom all men adore, and all women hate. Why do all women hate and all men adore this ugly, unkind and poverty-stricken woman? The answer is her intoxicating scent that drives men wild with desire. Husbands, boyfriends, fathers and sons alike, not one of them are immune to her, and that’s what makes the women hate her so much. Ramona adores the attention – both emotionally, and physically. Still, she tries to find real love, and thinks she’s found it, until her husband – the village beekeeper – promptly dies after finding her on their wedding night, in bed with another man. When his body disappears, she becomes an outcast, and she flees for Naples. The rest of the book follows her adventures, including how her life changes with the birth of her daughter, Blandina.

In this short novel Prior gives us another large cast of characters, which she knows how to bring alive, keeping them vivid and unconfused in our minds. Prior does this with her keen eye for the unusual and the distinctly different. What’s more, Prior really knows how to get her readers to feel for her characters – for the good and for the bad. It doesn’t matter if you grow to love Ramona or hate her, if you want a happy or a bad ending for her. What’s important is that as you read this, you’ll certainly take one side or another.

Aside from the characters, Prior’s general story writing style uses language that is simple, and yet has a touch of the feel of poetry to it. As an example, chapter one starts out as follows:

“Ramona Drotteveo was one of the chambermaids up at La Casa, the white marble palace in the valley of the Volturno, on the vast estate that had been in the Signora’s family since the time of the Etruscans.”

This tells you much more than you might imagine at first glance. A ‘white marble palace’ suggests wealth and opulence. While ‘one of the chambermaids’ indicates a large staff, and that the focus of the book is on one poor girl among them. If we look for Volturno, we find it in the chief river of southern Italy, which must be a very beautiful, lush and prosperous – nay, fertile – place. Finally ‘since the time of the Etruscans’ can tell us that the owners are not only rich, but come from old money and are probably very well respected. All of that in less than 40 words! This is just one example of how Prior gives you the gist, without having it laid out in long descriptions.

Using this style, removing the story from reality comes quite easily (and Prior was just on the edge of this with her first novel). Here she set herself free and allowed her imagination run just that much wilder. While we realize that many of the things in the book are highly unlikely, they don’t detract from the books believability. In fact, within the context of the characters and their situations, even the strangest of events seems almost ordinary. In this, we have a tale that borders on the fantastical while still having components of reality – or perhaps it is a realistic tale, which is also magical and whimsical.

Of course, any good fairy-tale must have a moral, and Prior gives us a choice here. One could be that sex for sex’s sake will not reap you anything permanent. Another could be that true love is something that we only find when we ignore or get beyond the physical, the obvious and the aesthetic, and look for that which is beneath and real. Then there is the “no bad turn goes unpunished” moral, mixed with the idea that everyone is worthy of redemption. Another possible moral is that no one is perfect, and imperfections matter less than how you overcome them. All of these are equally relevant.

Finally, this book also gives us intrigue, mystery, suspense and even comedy mixed into the story (and of course, lots and lots of lust!). In short, this is a bizarre story that straddles reality and fantasy. A fast read flows as the story unveils itself before you, with a writing style that is clear as well as evocative. It will make you laugh as well as think about human misfortunes, and how we fight or adapt to them. The boldly drawn characters have unique qualities that you’ll empathize with and/or their situations. Overall, the only thing one can fault this book with is that it could be a bit too fast of a read, and could leave you wanting more. “Nectar” by Lily Prior is highly recommended, and worthy of a solid four out of five stars.


nectar“Nectar” by Lily Prior first published by Black Swan, released January 1, 2002 is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Kobo (Walmart) eBooks and audiobooks,, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Better World Books (to promote libraries and world literary) and Alibris, as well as from an IndieBound store near you. This is a revised version of the review that originally appeared under my username TheChocolateLady, and on {the now defunct} sites Dooyoo and Yahoo! Contributor Network. 

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