Friday, May 4, 2018

Joanne Harris - Blackberry Wine

Jay Mackintosh is a 37-year-old has-been writer from London. Fourteen years have passed since his first novel, Jackapple Joe, won the Prix Goncourt. His only happiness comes from dreaming about the golden summers of his boyhood that he spent in the company of an eccentric vintner who was the inspiration of Jay's debut novel, but who one day mysteriously vanished. Under the strange effects of a bottle of Joe's '75 Special, Jay decides to purchase a derelict yet promising château in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. There, a ghost from his past waits to confront him, and his new neighbour, the reclusive Marise - haunted, lovely and dangerous - hides a terrible secret behind her closed shutters. Between them, there seems to be a mysterious chemistry. Or could it be magic?

Comment: I got this book by Joanne Harris at my local library because it has been in my TBR list for quite some years. There was a time I devoured her books but this one wasn't one I was able to get to at the time. Since I've always liked the style of the author, I was quite glad to find it in the library and being able to borrow it.

In this book we have another special story with unique characters and even more so here because most of the story is told by a bottle of wine.
This is the story of Jay McIntosh, an author who got very famous over a book but who hasn't written anything remotely similar ever since. To pay the bills he writes silly/marketable books under a pseudonym and plays the part of the affected but misunderstood author since he can't get over his first book. Jay's life changes when he impulsively buys a house in the village where he spent some summers as a child - also the theme and inspiration for his famous book.
However, his life is a bit complicated, when he gets in the house, the propriety isn't what he remembered and he even finds another contender for the same house. 
Will Jay find the same peace of mind he used to have and, more importantly, the feelings and magic he experienced when he was a boy?

Considering the books I've read previously by Joanne Harris, I wouldn't say this is a bad one. But I think I wasn't able to enjoy this one as much as I did the others (the ones I liked best of course) and I'm not certain why for this story has pretty much all the same elements the others did (the now called magical realism which to my way of thinking means a story with weird elements not easily explained but cute to read about).
I just think too much time has passed since I was "in the zone" to better appreciate these stories. You see, unlike other authors in the genre, Joanne Harris' voice is very peculiar and there's a certain sense of anxiety around her characters' actions, while other authors usually go more towards cute and romantic (Sarah Addison Allen comes to mind at the moment). This means one should focus a lot on all the details and not only on the whole concept and I confess I wasn't as easily able to focus as I remember from my past readings.

The story is interesting and I was eager to see how Jay would cope with the sudden change in his life, from going out of a cosmopolitan city into a smaller village, what it would mean for him and, of course, if it would make him go back to the same place he was when he wrote his famous book.
In fact, my favorite part of this book was to see Jay's interactions with the people he would be meeting and connecting with. We are given the impression Jay has never really felt part of a full life while he was in London and his personality suits quieter places more, especially because we know his childhood summers in France were the best of his life.

I think an element that didn't win me over that much was the dual timelines we follow in the book. Jay's successful book was written based on his summers with Joe, an old man with a lot to tell and share and much agricultural knowledge, especially about wine making and how best to use what the earth gives us. But now Joe is gone and Jay spends a lot of his time imagining he sees him still, as a sort of ghost while still remembering his adventures and experiences as a boy.
The present day scenes I liked because this what matters the most, this is what we can now see happening. The past scenes can be informative but for me are only distracting and fill up space that could be used to better let us know the current Jay and his dealings with others.

The plot isn't always easy to appreciate because, for me, a lot of time is spent on details I don't think are that interesting. I would have liked things to be more focused on Jay and his perception of his new surroundings but we also spend a long time seeing other characters discussing things or being important players. I get it that it meant to prepare us for the end, to make us understand why Jay makes some choices and so on. But it's not always exciting to read about others or about Jay's past.

Thinking about the wholeness of this book, it isn't a bad one and several moments/scenes are well done. But the parts that complete the sum aren't always well matched and some inferences are too whimsical, even for the style of this story. 
As for the wine as a narrator, this was disappointing, and I felt it wasn't such a big deal.
The end was sweet, though, and let me dream about possible futures for the main characters.
Grade: 6/10

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