Nectar: A Novel of Temptation

( 5 )

Overview

Ramona Drottoveo, an albino, is a chambermaid at a lush Italian estate. Distinguished by the intoxicating scent she exudes, Ramona is despised by all women and adored by all men, whose inexhaustible lust she eagerly satisfies. Life changes when her husband dies after discovering his bride with another man on their wedding night. Blamed for his death, Ramona and her lover are exiled to the neighboring city of Naples. There, Ramona's life is transformed once again by the birth of a daughter, Blandina, who "steals" ...

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Overview

Ramona Drottoveo, an albino, is a chambermaid at a lush Italian estate. Distinguished by the intoxicating scent she exudes, Ramona is despised by all women and adored by all men, whose inexhaustible lust she eagerly satisfies. Life changes when her husband dies after discovering his bride with another man on their wedding night. Blamed for his death, Ramona and her lover are exiled to the neighboring city of Naples. There, Ramona's life is transformed once again by the birth of a daughter, Blandina, who "steals" her mother's scent. No longer able to seduce men into blind submission, Ramona humbly returns to the estate to an unexpected welcome -- and revenge.

A hilarious and naughty celebration of the senses and the strange places they can lead us, Nectar explores the mystery of sexual attraction and the frivolous nature of divine justice.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
To visualize Prior's rambunctious novel, imagine a grand, erotic opera buffa, bursting with outsized passion and populated by 99 fancifully named and generally grotesque characters, including a disappearing corpse and his vengeful ghost, a love-starved humpback and the protagonist, a femme fatale in every sense of the word. The temptress is fat, albino Ramona Drottoveo, whose repulsive appearance (her skin is a violent shade of pink, as are her piggy eyes) is no deterrent to the tumescent reaction of any man who gets close enough to inhale the maddening sexual aroma she exudes. Vain, selfish and monumentally stupid, Ramona takes great delight in the hordes of aroused men she attracts. The elderly Signor of la Casa, where she works as a chambermaid, regularly has his way with her, but Ramona decides to marry the lowly beekeeper on the estate so she can quit her job and loaf. The day after her wedding, however, she is surprised with the beekeeper's new assistant, Rinaldo Buffi, a veritable Adonis, inspiring her cuckolded husband to commit suicide. Cast out from la Casa, Ramona and Rinaldo go to Naples, where further adventures await the seductive antiheroine. Prior (La Cucina) propels this larky but dark tale with sensuous descriptions of opulent banquets, hurly-burly street scenes, horrendous natural disasters and providential encounters. Yet the narrative seems less constructed than jerry-built; whenever the plot drives into a corner, magical intervention occurs. Despite its farcical tone, this Technicolor fairy tale is based on the lowest and most venal aspects of human nature, and one may tire of Ramona long before she gets her well-deserved comeuppance. Agent, Jean Naggar. (June) FYI: Nectar is a popular title this season; David Fickett's novel of the same name will be issued by Forge (Forecasts, Feb. 18). Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
After the gloppy novel-cum-cookbook La Cucina (2000), British author Prior continues to mine hackneyed peasant lore in a fairy tale about an unlovely albino servant girl with a peculiar, alluring odor-but also with vanity that eventually dooms her. Ramona Drottoveo is the uppity chambermaid at the sumptuous estate of "la Casa" in the Volturno valley whom the other servants love to hate, while the men follow her licking at her heels. Her scent can make any of them-from the pig-keeper to the estate's master Signor himself-"forget the whole of his past life and seek to reinvent himself." The only one who won't grovel for her favors is the modest beekeeper, whom she honors by allowing him to court and marry her-only to cheat on him with his handsome assistant hours after the wedding. After the beekeeper goes mad and gets stung to death, his spirit proceeds to curse, first, the estate, and then the two lovers, who flee to Naples. Ramona, vain and tone-deaf, fancies herself an opera singer, and although she and her poor new beekeeper husband, Rinaldo Buffi, have no money, she covets new clothes and good food. Alas, ambushes await the country bumpkins, as do plenty of sinister stock characters with florid names, from the selfless hunchback to the lecherous opera director to the superstitious shrine keeper (a multi-page list of characters introduces the book). And as may be expected from a clowning parody of Italian provincialism, there are steaming dishes of food, pentola of costine, and so on. Prior's simple prose undercuts her apparent aim of seducing the reader by means of thickly spread nostalgia, nor may there ever have been a more repulsive lead character than Ramona, or one more deservingof her fate. With violins playing and Chianti flowing, a goofy commedia dell'arte.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060936822
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/1/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.61 (d)

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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Read an Excerpt

Nectar

A Novel of Temptation
By Lily Prior

Harper Collins Publishers

Copyright © 2003 Lily Prior All right reserved. ISBN: 0060936827

Chapter One



The Garden



Ramona Drottoveo 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.

As Ramona worked "indoors" rather than "outdoors," and "upstairs" rather than "downstairs," she considered herself somewhat more important than the other workers on the estate.

She began to look down on those who tilled the land, laboring in the lemon groves, the vineyards, and the orchards, raising crops of sunflowers, chili peppers, tomatoes, olives, and big-bellied melons; and she disdained those who tended the buffaloes and other livestock and those who worked in the dairy and the stables.

Ramona now thought herself above those who beautified the Signora's magical gardens, where peacocks strutted and fountains played orchestral music, where rare orchids bloomed, roses blushed, and where the lushest lawns stretched into the blue distance as far as the eye could see.

She even put on airs before those who roasted hogs, stuffed thrushes, sculpted ice, kneaded bread, pluckedducks, prepared pastries, and polished silver plates and crystal goblets in the great vaulted kitchens.

Ramona was universally hated by the women, though not for this reason; being uppity was the least offensive of her sins. That which made women hate her made men worship her; and this made the women hate her most.

Yet they weren't jealous of her looks, for she was ugly. Had Ramona been a beauty, they would have found the adoration she inspired less obscene, and far more tolerable.

The truth was, Ramona was an albino. Her plump body was bereft of all pigment. Her hair was as white as the feathers of the doves in the Signora's ornamental dovecote, and she refused to braid it, wearing it always loose in a halo around her face and shoulders.

Her skin was a violent shade of pink, so colored by the blood flowing through it, and her livid moon face formed an ugly contrast with the white shade of her hair.

Ramona's eyelashes were long and white, leading some of the female staff to compare them to those of the pigs in the pens beyond the vegetable gardens. Her eyes, where most of the color in her body was concentrated, were also pink, like the eyes of the white rabbit you see in magic shows and picture books.

Yet, although she was coarse and candy-striped, the men of the estate flocked to Ramona, and vied with one another for her favors. The women accused her of being a witch and of using evil arts to lure their men away; but Ramona was no witch. She simply had that scent about her, that made a man in her presence forget the whole of his past life and seek to reinvent himself as a dog, if at that particular moment she wanted a dog. Or a cherry, or a new bonnet. Work could be lost, opportunities discarded, wives and babes could go hungry, poverty and death could be biting at his heels, but still he would kick them up in the air and risk it all for one whiff of Ramona's elixir.

This is really what made the women hate her.

During daylight hours, especially in summertime, Ramona would not emerge from La Casa, for the world was too bright a place for her to inhabit by day. In the evening, however, she walked in the gardens, in the manner of the Signora herself, taking the air, and singing softly to herself the local folk songs, for she fancied she had a voice and loved to sing.

The Signora knew of this nightly intrusion into her gardens, and sought to put Ramona in her place, but on the advice of her husband, who was then enjoying the benefits of a regular coupling with the upstart maid, the Signora said nothing.

And so Ramona strolled with the peacocks through the walkways where the grass was manicured by a dedicated team of twenty under-gardeners. It was as green as crunchy apples and so springy it still bore the trace of her footprints long after she had passed by. Indeed, it is said that Ovidio Gondulfo, the head gardener himself, was once seen prostrate in the acacia walk licking the imprints lovingly with his tongue after Ramona had left him for the bed of another man.

Then, when the scent hung plump in the air, and the wistful tenderness of the declining light made the garden the most romantic place on earth, Ramona would be accosted by countless admirers hiding in the topiary, imploring her to take pity on them and satisfy the agonized longing of their loins.

They came, not only from the estate, but also from the surrounding hills and sometimes even beyond. From the plains to the northeast and the west, and from the towns of Dragoni, Teano, Carinola, and Mondragone. The admirers came from all walks of life, and it is fair to say that as word of her charms spread and her popularity increased, Ramona grew cold toward the field laborers with whom, in the early days, she had been content to satisfy her urges in the hayricks and beneath the hedgerows.

"What, Stiliano Mamiliano, are you here again? Do you think I will do it with you after the last time? Why, the acorn that you feed to your pigs is a bigger prize than that which hangs between your legs."

Deflated, Stiliano's head disappeared into the foliage, only to be replaced by that of his younger brother, Ludovico, freshfaced and blushing.

"Will you do it with me, Ramona Drottoveo?" he asked in a hoarse voice. "My thing is much bigger than Stiliano's." A thump followed as Stiliano's boot met the seat of Ludovico's pants behind the hedge.

"I've no time for boys," replied Ramona. "I need a man who knows what's..."

(Continues...)


Excerpted from Nectar by Lily Prior
Copyright © 2003 by Lily Prior
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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First Chapter

Chapter One



The Garden



Ramona Drottoveo 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.

As Ramona worked "indoors" rather than "outdoors," and "upstairs" rather than "downstairs," she considered herself somewhat more important than the other workers on the estate.

She began to look down on those who tilled the land, laboring in the lemon groves, the vineyards, and the orchards, raising crops of sunflowers, chili peppers, tomatoes, olives, and big-bellied melons; and she disdained those who tended the buffaloes and other livestock and those who worked in the dairy and the stables.

Ramona now thought herself above those who beautified the Signora's magical gardens, where peacocks strutted and fountains played orchestral music, where rare orchids bloomed, roses blushed, and where the lushest lawns stretched into the blue distance as far as the eye could see.

She even put on airs before those who roasted hogs, stuffed thrushes, sculpted ice, kneaded bread, plucked ducks, prepared pastries, and polished silver plates and crystal goblets in the great vaulted kitchens.

Ramona was universally hated by the women, though not for this reason; being uppity was the least offensive of her sins. That which made women hate her made men worship her; and this made the women hate her most.

Yet they weren't jealous of her looks, for she was ugly. HadRamona been a beauty, they would have found the adoration she inspired less obscene, and far more tolerable.

The truth was, Ramona was an albino. Her plump body was bereft of all pigment. Her hair was as white as the feathers of the doves in the Signora's ornamental dovecote, and she refused to braid it, wearing it always loose in a halo around her face and shoulders.

Her skin was a violent shade of pink, so colored by the blood flowing through it, and her livid moon face formed an ugly contrast with the white shade of her hair.

Ramona's eyelashes were long and white, leading some of the female staff to compare them to those of the pigs in the pens beyond the vegetable gardens. Her eyes, where most of the color in her body was concentrated, were also pink, like the eyes of the white rabbit you see in magic shows and picture books.

Yet, although she was coarse and candy-striped, the men of the estate flocked to Ramona, and vied with one another for her favors. The women accused her of being a witch and of using evil arts to lure their men away; but Ramona was no witch. She simply had that scent about her, that made a man in her presence forget the whole of his past life and seek to reinvent himself as a dog, if at that particular moment she wanted a dog. Or a cherry, or a new bonnet. Work could be lost, opportunities discarded, wives and babes could go hungry, poverty and death could be biting at his heels, but still he would kick them up in the air and risk it all for one whiff of Ramona's elixir.

This is really what made the women hate her.

During daylight hours, especially in summertime, Ramona would not emerge from La Casa, for the world was too bright a place for her to inhabit by day. In the evening, however, she walked in the gardens, in the manner of the Signora herself, taking the air, and singing softly to herself the local folk songs, for she fancied she had a voice and loved to sing.

The Signora knew of this nightly intrusion into her gardens, and sought to put Ramona in her place, but on the advice of her husband, who was then enjoying the benefits of a regular coupling with the upstart maid, the Signora said nothing.

And so Ramona strolled with the peacocks through the walkways where the grass was manicured by a dedicated team of twenty under-gardeners. It was as green as crunchy apples and so springy it still bore the trace of her footprints long after she had passed by. Indeed, it is said that Ovidio Gondulfo, the head gardener himself, was once seen prostrate in the acacia walk licking the imprints lovingly with his tongue after Ramona had left him for the bed of another man.

Then, when the scent hung plump in the air, and the wistful tenderness of the declining light made the garden the most romantic place on earth, Ramona would be accosted by countless admirers hiding in the topiary, imploring her to take pity on them and satisfy the agonized longing of their loins.

They came, not only from the estate, but also from the surrounding hills and sometimes even beyond. From the plains to the northeast and the west, and from the towns of Dragoni, Teano, Carinola, and Mondragone. The admirers came from all walks of life, and it is fair to say that as word of her charms spread and her popularity increased, Ramona grew cold toward the field laborers with whom, in the early days, she had been content to satisfy her urges in the hayricks and beneath the hedgerows.

"What, Stiliano Mamiliano, are you here again? Do you think I will do it with you after the last time? Why, the acorn that you feed to your pigs is a bigger prize than that which hangs between your legs."

Deflated, Stiliano's head disappeared into the foliage, only to be replaced by that of his younger brother, Ludovico, freshfaced and blushing.

"Will you do it with me, Ramona Drottoveo?" he asked in a hoarse voice. "My thing is much bigger than Stiliano's." A thump followed as Stiliano's boot met the seat of Ludovico's pants behind the hedge.

"I've no time for boys," replied Ramona. "I need a man who knows what's..."

Nectar. 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

Introduction

"The men of the estate flocked to Ramona, and vied with one another for her favors. The women accused her of being a witch and of using evil arts to lure their men away; but Ramona was not a witch. She simply had that scent about her that made a man in her presence forget the whole of his past life and seek to reinvent himself as a dog, if at that particular moment she wanted a dog. Or a cherry, or a new bonnet. Work could be lost, opportunities discarded, wives and babes could go hungry, poverty and death could be biting at his heels, but still he would kick them up in the air and risk it all for one whiff of Ramona's elixir."

Ramona Drottoveo, an albino, is a chambermaid at a lush Italian estate. Distinguished by the intoxicating scent she exudes, Ramona is despised by all women and adored by all men, whose inexhaustible lust she eagerly satisfies. Life changes when her husband dies after discovering his bride with another man on their wedding night. Blamed for his death, Ramona and her lover are exiled to the neighboring city of Naples. There, Ramona's life is transformed once again by the birth of a daughter, Blandina, who "steals" her mother's scent. No longer able to seduce men into blind submission, Ramona humbly returns to the estate to an unexpected welcome -- and revenge.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why do you think the author withheld the name of the beekeeper from the reader? Do you think this is significant? How does his passion for Ramona differ from all the others?

  2. Do you think that Ramona is using her attractiveness to distinguish her standing at the estate or do you think she is primarily drivenby lust and vanity? Do you find Ramona's antics amusing or disturbing, and if so, why?

  3. After the beekeeper's suicide, do you think the villagers treat Ramona as she deserves or is their reaction excessive and motivated by something less obvious? Did their behavior following the disappearance of the beekeeper's body make Ramona feel remorseful or even more confident than ever?

  4. Shortly after their arrival in Napoli, Ramona asks Rupinello the humpback to read her future. The tarot cards, the crystal ball, and even Ramona's own palm revealed "torment, misery, madness, despair, death." Why does he lie to Ramona? Do you think in the end his predictions were accurate? Or, did Ramona ultimately elude her destiny?

  5. When Ramona lost her scent, "not a single person noticed her. It was as though Ramona Drottoveo did not even exist. . . . She felt suddenly small and scared and insignificant." How do people, especially men, regard Ramona once her bewitching odor vanishes? Does her loss affect her behavior? Does she deserve her comeuppance? What do you think this says about the nature of women's sex appeal and how it shapes their psyche?

  6. On her arduous journey back to the estate, Ramona abandons her rapidly growing baby in a ditch, then returns to it. "She didn't understand why her body changed direction, why her legs began to carry her back." Why do you think she returned? Did it prove to be a wise decision for Ramona? What was more powerful in that instance -- Ramona's maternal instinct or the baby's cunning?

  7. Ramona is remarkably attentive and faithful to her third husband, the Signor. "Ramona Drottoveo was good for him -- even the most bitter of the servants had to admit that." Do you think that the loss of her scent softened Ramona's heart? Or, did it make her feel more alone and vulnerable? Was she at any point aware that her strength as a woman had evaporated along with her scent? If so, when?

  8. When her adoring nurse Milvia died, Blandina gleefully went riding. Was this gesture consistent with her character? While Ramona cared for the Signor, Blandina took advantage of all the young signori, who beat a path to her door. Compare Blandina to Ramona. In what ways do they differ? Would you agree that Blandina is truly her "mother's daughter"? Do you believe that an excess of natural gifts can lead to heartlessness?

  9. Nectar concludes with the pig-keeper, Stiliano Mamiliano, proposing to Ramona. Do you believe that she would accept? What lessons (if any) do you think Ramona has learned? Why do you think Lily Prior chose to conclude the book with this scene?

  10. Do you think Lily Prior intends the magical "smell" in Nectar, passed on from mother to daughter, to be interpreted metaphorically? Or is this a ribald tale, with supernatural elements and superstition reflecting the narrow worldview of its tragicomic characters?

  11. Would you describe Nectar as a romantic novel? A sensual one? A comedy? Compare and contrast Nectar with Lily Prior's first novel, La Cucina. How does the Italian culture and tradition determine the outlook and lives of Ramona and Rosa Fiore, the main character of La Cucina? Both stories are set against the lush and sensual backdrop of the Italian countryside, yet the tone is different. Which novel is more optimistic in its outlook on women? If both books were made into movies, who would play Ramona? Or Rosa Fiore?

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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013

    Next result for necterclan

    THANKS!!!
    Beestar

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2012

    Interesting story line but hard to get into...

    The story was a good idea but it could have been written better. Its hard to get into. Every thing is dragged on incredibly long. I actually just skimmed to the end to get it over with.

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    Posted January 21, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted January 9, 2009

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    Posted July 31, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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