When a lonely olive grower, Arcadio Carnabuci, sows his love seeds, he cannot imagine the chaos his magic fruit will bring. While Fernanda Ponderosa, the voluptuous woman of his dreams, evades his spell, Gezabel, a hardworking middle-aged mule, falls head over hooves in love with him. And, as Gezabel discovers, she is not the only one whose stars cross as the olive grower's ardor casts its magic over the region. Suddenly, the butcher and the baker are thinking murder, the village doctor and his nurse are driven ...

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When a lonely olive grower, Arcadio Carnabuci, sows his love seeds, he cannot imagine the chaos his magic fruit will bring. While Fernanda Ponderosa, the voluptuous woman of his dreams, evades his spell, Gezabel, a hardworking middle-aged mule, falls head over hooves in love with him. And, as Gezabel discovers, she is not the only one whose stars cross as the olive grower's ardor casts its magic over the region. Suddenly, the butcher and the baker are thinking murder, the village doctor and his nurse are driven to distraction, and a newborn is transformed into an angel. As the villagers alternate between love and war, remarkable phenomena add to the fevered atmosphere, making passions surge higher than the soaring temperatures of summer.

A wildly imaginative fairy tale for adults, Ardor celebrates the lovely landscape of Italy and the eccentricity of its inhabitants in a narrative full of twists and unexpected delights.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.
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Editorial Reviews

Laura Schillinger
The tables never stop turning in Lily Prior's latest hothouse fantasy.
The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
Another precious little fable, this about lust, from the author of Nectar (2002) and La Cucina (2000). Lo! Spring has come to a little village in Italy, and sweet desire stirs souls of men and beasts. Even arachnids get in on the action: "The spiders in their spangled webs yearned for love and spun sonnets of a fragile and unbearable beauty, glazed with tears of dew." The voice of the turtle is heard in the land (see below) and love seeds itself in the dark, moist, yielding earth. There are themes, like Longing and Fulfillment. Behold! Even a lowly olive transcends its twig to be worshipped by its grower, Arcadio Carnabuci, who cuts into one, relishing its smell of "vanilla, champagne, longing, marzipan, peaches, smiles, cream, strawberries, roses, melting chocolate, lilac, figs, laughter, honeysuckles, kisses, lilies, enchantment, ardor itself." Should Arcadio sit around and smell his olives, or should he pursue an amorous liaison with Fernanda Ponderosa? Her magnificent bosom and charming eccentricities are the stuff of yet more legends-her cast-iron bathtub, which sank beneath the uncaring sea, and her traveling menagerie. Heed, oh reader, the sad plight of Oscar, a soulful monkey, and Olga, a highly fertile turtle, the mother of seven coin-sized offspring. The whimsy never lets up-why, even the seven baby turtles have adorable names of their very own! But surely the amphibious charms of little Evangelista, Carla, Deborah, Cressida, Dafne, Manon, and Lilla will not steal the show from the multitude of colorful villagers! It's a good thing there's also a long list of character names. In fact, there are many lists, mostly of vaguely sensual words and phrases that fall trippingly from thetongue. But a plot? No, there's nothing so mundane as that. . Agent: Jean Naggar/Jean Naggar Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061873331
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,303,465
  • File size: 373 KB

Meet the Author

Lily Prior is the author of La Cucina, Ardor, and Nectar and she divides her time between London and Italy.

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First Chapter

A Novel of Enchantment

Chapter One

The man who was responsible for this whole mix-up was our own Arcadio Carnabuci, the olive grower. Demoralized by the rejection he had suffered from every woman he had approached in the region, and exhausted by his debilitating loneliness, he grew desperate. At precisely the moment this happened, there was a knock on the door and he was seduced by the glib patter of a passing peddler. Within seconds he had purchased at great expense a handful of seeds the gypsy guaranteed would bring him love.

Gleefully the peddler pocketed the cash and ran off before the olive grower could change his mind. But he need not have worried. Arcadio Carnabuci was delighted with his purchase and couldn't wait to change his life. Nobody could have predicted the way things would turn out, but I will faithfully record it all in these pages, for I myself was intimately involved with everything that happened.

Yes, responding to the irresistible surge of nature, Arcadio Carnabuci sowed the seeds of his love early in the spring, when the short days of fleeting February were hurrying into March, and already the earth was coming alive. Mists hung around the skirts of the hills like tulle, and on the plains tiny figures became visible, muffled against the cold, sowing the crops where the snow had melted.

Arcadio Carnabuci spent the daylight hours on the rungs of a ladder, pruning the olive trees that had been in the care of his family for one thousand years. But his mind was not on his olives. No. It was on love.

In the crisp air that clouded with his breath, he could feel the tension, taut like the twigs that snapped beneath his knife. Overnight, the almond trees poured forth their blossoms. Not to be outdone, the cherry trees followed; so, too, did the persimmons, the chestnuts, and the pomegranates. The sticky buds on the willows gave forth curly catkins, and the meadows exploded into a blaze of spring flowers: lily of the valley, dwarf narcissi, bluebells, crocuses, and irises formed a carpet of dazzling color. Wild asparagus and sweet-smelling herbs perfumed the newborn air, and up on the mountains, rhododendrons bloomed.

Arcadio Carnabuci could feel the earth's energy through the soles of his stout boots. This effervescence bubbled up into his legs and made him dance in spite of himself.

"Look, I'm dancing," he cried to no one in particular, all the more amazed because he had never danced a step in his life before. And he started to laugh.

"I'm dancing."

And so he was. Slowly at first, but as his confidence grew, he threw himself into the rhythm of the dance. His arms joined in; his feet, usually leaden, became weightless. They bounced off the hardened earth and soared into the air. He dipped and dived like a swallow. He gyrated his hips. He flung his head about.

Those that saw him turned up their coat collars and examined their mittens to cover their embarrassment. Arcadio Carnabuci, always strange, was growing stranger. That day my colleague Concetta Crocetta, the district nurse, received seven separate reports calling for Arcadio Carnabuci to be interred in the manicomio at Cascia for the benefit of all in the region. Yet when we trotted past the olive grove to witness Arcadio Carnabuci's antics, we saw it was nothing more than high spirits connected with the coming of spring. Smiling indulgently, she gave me a tap with her little heel to encourage me. Back then she was never rough with my tender flanks, and we set off again for home.

The impulse that was tickling away at Arcadio Carnabuci was not confined to himself and the plants. No. Animals felt it, too. The spiders in their spangled webs yearned for love and spun sonnets of a fragile and unbearable beauty, glazed with tears of dew. Scorpions in dark corners clipped their castanets in courtship, then curled up in pairs in discarded shoes, snug as bugs. The mice in the rafters scurried about gathering wisps of stolen cotton, torn paper, and bits of fluff and formed them into cozy nests from which they subsequently brought forth blind babies the size of peas. The humble newts in the waterspout sung out in deep voices. The frogs and the toads joined in with them, and soon a chorus of magical croaking was filling the air. The music they made was so beautiful it made those that heard it weep and yearn for the life of an amphibian so they could unlock the secret of the song. Already the beady-eyed blackbirds were busily building their nests, watched slyly by the cuckoos, who were broadcasting the news, for those that didn't already know it: spring had sprung. Deep in the oak woods, the wild boar grunted his serenade, while, in the sty, his domestic cousins spooned. Deer frolicked, hares chased. High up in the mountains the wolf howled his suit, and the shy brown bears hugged in their caves.

Arcadio Carnabuci could not help but succumb to the rosy glow that wrapped itself around the region, and his loins hummed with a cruel expectation that in his lonely circumstances he could do little to fulfill. But he had faith in his love seeds, and in this fertile climate their promise would surely come to fruition.

It was then that he sowed them. He picked the moment with care. In the watery sunlight, frail but willing. Under glass. To keep them warm. They were more beans than seeds. Pleasantly plump, and a palish pink in color. Little crescent moons. He could feel a tingling in the beans; like jumping beans, they possessed the same energy as everything else around him. He held them for a while in the palm of his hand, familiarizing himself with them, scrutinizing them through his half-moon glasses, behind which his eyes seemed enormous, and every pore and hair follicle was magnified a thousand times. Even the beans could feel the strength of his hope, and the plucky little creatures were determined not to disappoint him.

A Novel of Enchantment
. Copyright © by Lily Prior. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide


A story set in the ancient town of Norcia about a lonely man who summons love into his life by planting magic seeds from a gypsy, Ardor is narrated by the most unlikely of observers -- a mule named Gezabel. Unlikely, but not unusual. For this enchanting tale of the heart of Italy is populated by quirky villagers as well as their ghosts, animals, and angels. Norcia's landscape is lush with life during this particular summer -- the summer that passion comes to town.

Arcadio Carnabuci, an olive grower who has been rejected by every woman in the region, is thrilled when a wandering peddler offers him the chance for love in the form of fruit seeds. Excited for his life to change, Arcadio plants the plump pink seeds in early spring and waits for them to grow. And when, finally, Arcadio's fruit appears, so does his love -- Fernanda Ponderosa.

Beautiful and mysterious, Fernanda arrives at the house next door. It is the home of her twin sister, Silvana, who has died but not gone. While Fernanda tries to reconcile with her sister's ghost and quickly becomes the townsmen's object of desire, Arcadio tries relentlessly to woo her. Unsuccessful, he is heartbroken -- this is not what was supposed to happen.

But he is not the only one with troubles. The mule Gezebel falls head over hooves in love with Arcadio, defying the natural order of things. The ever-punctual district nurse Concetta Crocetta longs for the town doctor, Amilcare Croce, who always shows up too late. Primo Castorini, the pork butcher whose passion for Fernanda is about to burn out of control, is suspected of killing mafia boss Don Dino Maddaloni with a bad sausage. The baker Luigi Bordino,who expresses his love for Fernanda with his famous bread, is unaware of his daughter-in-law's sinister plans. And then, there is the matter of the flying baby.

As the summer temperatures soar and the village of Norcia becomes fevered, an intense storm begins to brew. Emotion thunders loudly, passion flashes brightly. When it passes, one man will be dead; one will be accused of murder; and one will suffer the most ... with the end of Ardor.

Wildly inventive, Lily Prior's novel is a fairy tale that adults will find funny, surprising, and more than a little magical.

Discussion Questions

  1. "She must have had a premonition of the tragedy, for when the boy brought the telegram, he found the house boarded up and Fernanda Ponderosa already gone" (page 1). What news did the telegram hold? What does the prologue tell us about the character Fernanda?

  2. "These small things they could do. He could accelerate. She could slow down. The law of averages or probabilities decreed that sometimes, yes, they would meet" (page 64). How does the ships-passing-in-the-night romance between Concetta Crocetta and Dr. Amilcare Croce contribute to the novel's theme? Discuss the meaning and significance of these two characters' last names.

  3. "Although their rivalry stretched back to the time before they were even born, when each fetus had struggled for her own space, her own survival, there was a bond that bound them together, and that neither could sever" (page 68). Why do you think Fernanda and her twin sister Silvana were estranged?

  4. "A free spirit, she went where her visions drove her, submitting to the will of the time and tides, and the breezes that sent her in new directions" (page 72). Discuss the ethereal nature of Fernanda and how she affects those around her.

  5. The author's playful humor flourishes in this novel: "He had to murder Luigi Bordino soon or he wouldn't be responsible for his actions" (page 144). Where else in the novel did you find great moments of humor?

  6. "She always left while she could walk away easily, without a backward glance" (page 149). What made Fernanda decide to leave Norcia?

  7. "Belinda Fondi squinted her eyes and examined the wings ... Was her baby turning into a bird? ... People would say she was mad. They would try to lock her up in the manicomio, as they did everyone else who didn't fit in" (page 152). What is the significance of Serafino, the flying baby, in the book?

  8. "But he didn't believe in magic. Or in the devil. Or in God. It was easier for him to say what he didn't believe in than what he did" (page 158). How did the flying baby affect Dr. Amilcare?

  9. Clearly the story is set in Italy, but the author never says it specifically. Why do you think that is?

  10. "He would never speak or sing again" (page 197). How does Arcadio lose his voice?

  11. Ardor poses "a lot of questions" about love. "Only one" will matter in the end. What is it?

About the Author

Lily Prior is the author of La Cucina and Nectar. With her husband Chris, and pug, Norman, she divides her time between London and Italy, where she finds inspiration for her novels.

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