First published August 9, 2016
My rating: 4 out of 5
Image from Goodreads
Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review!
The Short Of It:
While not without its flaws, this was a fun, enticing and mouthwatering read about a grandmother, a granddaughter, and a big ol' secret involving a certain artiste.
The Long Of It:
The South of France, on the coast of the deep blue Mediterranean Sea, 1936: 17-year-old Ondine is given a very special task; each day she is to hop on her bicycle with a hamper of Provençal culinary delights from her parents' cafe and prepare them for a mysterious patron. That patron, Ondine soon learns, is mercurial, charismatic and brilliant Pablo Picasso, escaping from scandal in Paris to paint in peace and secrecy, tucked away in a villa on the French Riviera.
Ondine's beauty and brazenness attract the moody Picasso's attention, and the two strike up a friendship of sorts. Cooking for Picasso, as it turns out, will change Ondine's life -- and that of her daughter and the granddaughter she'll never get to meet -- in ways she wouldn't have been able to fathom.
Meanwhile in present day, we meet Ondine's granddaughter, a young woman named Céline who works as a Hollywood makeup artist. Céline knows very little of her French grandmother who died the same day she was born, but when she finally learns of Ondine's long-ago encounter with Picasso, she travels to France to track down her grandmother's legacy.
The lovely, bright, happy cover and the first bit of the book -- which will make you drool with all the cooking talk -- lend the story a lighthearted air, but several weighty issues are revealed as the plot continues: evil step-siblings, physical and emotional abuse, estranged families, violent loan sharks, mobsters, meddling parents, affairs and secrets. There are two horrible chauvinistic jerks in the book, Céline's father and Mr. Pablo Picasso himself. Going in to the novel, I didn't know much about Picasso's personal life, but I have a feeling his sexist, womanizing tendencies weren't terribly exaggerated here. He did, after all, have two wives, four children by three different women, and untold dalliances.
The overall tone of the story is still, for the most part, pleasant, but the plot is heavy with difficult roadblocks for our characters. A kidnapping plot, a disgustingly domineering husband and the world's nastiest set of twins seem a bit incongruous with the more cheerful aspects of the tale. And the writing, while full of lovely food and scenery depictions, could use a bit of fine-tuning. But ultimately, "Cooking for Picasso" is a decent story about two women -- separated by decades -- overcoming odds to find themselves amid the delicious cooking and stunning scenery of the French Riviera -- with the interesting addition of a very famous artiste.