The reviews are in …

For a first-time author, reviews can be daunting. But I’m not particularly fussed. I’ve always expected Sicily, It’s Not Quite Tuscany to be disliked by certain groups – those who hold the Sicilian city of Catania dear to their hearts, for instance, and anyone who abhors the consumption of horse meat for pleasure. And, thanks to the book, I probably haven’t made too many friends in Toowoomba in Queensland, or in the Sydney suburb of Rooty Hill. (Or, indeed, in Germany.)

So, in all likelihood, I’ll get some bad reviews. I just hope that they’re delivered with the panache of A. A. Gill, the restaurant reviewer for The Sunday Times in the UK. Couple of examples:

We started with yakitori-style chicken wings – sticky, bony and filthy, like a hillbilly wedding reception. Seaweed salad, the dredgings from a terrapin’s tank.

The room and the food leave barely a trace of memory. Trying to resurrect the experience is like trying to remember the faces of bus drivers.

I also think I’m due for some “review comeuppance”, as it were. As a magazine editor, I regularly review books, hotels, restaurants and films. And I’m not always kind. This from my review of Troy, for example:

Peter O’Toole’s persistent expression of surprise suggests that in the critical moment of a recent facelift operation he suddenly realised he’d left the iron on at home.

A legend of the silver screen, cruelly dismissed with a breezy one-liner by a nobody. It seems my time is nigh.

Happily, early reviews have been very kind to Sicily, It’s Not Quite Tuscany. I’ll share some snippets with you here, though do keep in mind that these have been judiciously chosen to make me appear in the best light possible:

“[Sillar is] observant, funny and knowledgeable – with a PhD in Roman history, he’s the right person to guide us around Sicily’s ancient ruins … Fun, informative and always interesting.”
– NZ Herald on Sunday

“Sillar writes well and entertainingly about trying times.”
– The Sun Herald
, The Sunday Age, Brisbane Times, Canberra Times

“A fascinating account.”
– Launceston Examiner

“The charming Shamus and Gill make the most of their year on an island often left off tourist itineraries.”
– Next
magazine, New Zealand

“Sillar writes well. This book – his first – is funny and completely engaging from start to finish.”
– Write Note Reviews

“This is a new warts-and-all look at the island from which travellers, both real and armchair, can learn much and be entertained at the same time.”
– Bookseller+Publisher

According to my publisher, there are several more reviews to come. So I’m not out of the woods. Who knows, I may yet be described as “treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry”.

2 thoughts on “The reviews are in …

  1. Shamus, I don’t want to give you a big head but I really loved your book. Oh, how lovely not to have anyone celebrating a grape harvest or rhapsodizing over food drizzled with something or other. Instead, it was deliciously perverse. My ancestors came from Ripposto somewhere north of Catania on the coast, usually represented as Giarre-Riposto on the map but I have never been there. Hope it is more like Taormina than Catania but then who cares? It was good to read about an untouristy place. There should be a ban on books set in Tuscany and Provence. Enough. How did you make the translation to magazine editor from being an unemployed Roman history scholar?

    • Hi Helen,

      Thanks so much – glad you enjoyed it! I’ve been to Giarre-Riposto. It’s where you end up if you take the Circumetnea (“around Etna”) train from Catania all the way around the base of the volcano. Worth doing, especially for a stop at the interesting town of Randazzo. From what I understand, Giarre-Riposto is just the name of the train station that serves the two towns; Riposto is down towards the sea. Hope you get there some day.

      How I went from Roman history to magazine editing is a longer story and one that will hopefully get an airing in my next book, about my time in China (which is where I made the change). I definitely didn’t do any grape-harvesting there…


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