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I absolutely love this book. I bought it second hand on a whim because I had read Chocolat and watched the film numerous times and really enjoyed them both. Blackberry wine is written by the same author, Joanne Harris, so I thought that this book might be worth a read too. I picked it up a couple of days ago after it having sat on the book case for some time, and I romped through it in absolutely no time at all, not because it was short, but because I simply couldn't bring myself to put it down. It is far from being a thriller, so that wasn't it, I just simply enjoyed reading it too much to stop. The particularly short chapters also add to this effect - most are a mere two or three pages long, which means you always think you have time to read just one more.
The chapters tend to alternate between the main character (Jay)'s childhood memories, and his adventures as a thirty something, buying a house in France on a whim. There is a good deal of intrigue, with secrets surrounding the mysterious Marise D'Api, his new neighbour, which holds you in suspense until almost the very end - there is a strong sense throuhout that maybe everything isn't quite as it seems.
The book is about relationships mostly, not just the romantic kind, but all types of relationships between people, and it touches on themes of magic, writing, gardening, small village gossip, and the drawbacks of regeneration. It has something for everyone. The way that Joanne Harris writes really makes you feel as if you are in France, or Kirky Monckton, where Jay grew up. Her descriptions bring it all vividly to life so that you can really escape your everyday life and pretend that you are somewhere else for a moment. I would thoroughly recommend anyone to read this book!
In a rush in the library the other day, I picked up Blackberry Wine, because I've enjoyed Joanne Harris novels before and love to read about French food! I had enjoyed Five Quarters of the Orange a few years ago but found it quite dark. So I was hoping Blackberry Wine would be full of the characterisations, french atmosphere and descriptions of food that I'd loved in her other books, but also that it would be a little lighter and uplifting! And thankfully, it lived up to my expectations.
Blackberry Wine tells the story of Jay, a writer who isn't writing, but who is mostly drinking and remembering the defining events of his childhood. Thus, his current life and his childhood are interwoven and begin to overlap in a supernatural way. The story is intriguing, engaging and compelling. Jay, though certainly far from perfect, is a character who draws you in. The mysterious nature of the two stories draws you on to read more and more.
I got a little bit annoyed by the fact that the story is told from the perspective of a bottle of wine. For me, that was taking the 'magic' a little too far, but it did also lend a little bit of distance from all the characters which was interesting. I'd like to read the book again to see more of the links and themes running through it and I'd definitely recommend it as a good read - perhaps for a french holiday!
I've been meaning to read "Chocolat" by Joanne Harris for a while now but as I tend to buy most of my books from charity shops and I live in a town with a tiny library, I don't always find the books I'm looking for. But when I recently came across "Blackberry Wine" by the same author, I read the blurb on the back and thought it sounded like an interesting story.
Jay Mackintosh is a writer who has been blocked since his hugely successful first novel "Three Summers With Jackapple Joe". He now lives with his media-hungry, shallow girlfriend Kerry and spends most of his time drinking and reminiscing over past events. However a chance glance through a property magazine leads to Jay abandoning his dead-end life and purchasing an old, run-down house in the French village of Lansquenet. Here, Jay can write again, but at the same time he has to deal with a ghost from his past and finally put to rest the memories he keeps reliving.
Food and drink play an important part in the story, as suggested by the title. The story flashes backwards and forwards in time so that we can clearly see Jay's childhood memories of the summers he spent with the real life "Jackapple Joe." Joe was an eccentric old man who lived near Jay's grandparents. He was a keen gardener, but preferred to rely on old fashioned yet new age methods of gardening - planting seeds when the moon is in the right phase and hanging sachets of herbs around the garden as protection for his plants. He grew loads of different kinds of vegetables but in particular he was fond of a rare type of potato that he used to make his wine.
I won't say much more about Joe here, but Jay never knew what happened to the old man and longs to find out. At the start of the book, we find out that Jay has in his possession four bottles of the special wine that the old man used to make. Quite how he came to be in possession of these wines is revealed later in the book.
In France, Jay becomes embroiled in local life, although some of the villagers view him with suspicion as they want to retain their traditional village but worry that Jay intends to develop the land he has bought. The setting is the same as for the novel "Chocolat" and a few of the characters crop up again. I'm not sure if this was necessary or not. I've recently managed to get my hands on "Chocolat" so am reading it just now but I find it hard to imagine the characters as being the same as those in this book. Jay also hs the added complication of his reclusive neighbour Marise, who was desperate to get her hands on the house and land Jay has bought. She clearly has something to hide and despite being despised by the village she refuses to leave Lansquenet. Jayis desperate to discover more about her and as he collects snippets of local gossip, he finds that he can fill in the blanks and uses Marise as the focus of his novel. But is his idea of her anything like the reality?
This book is in third person but there are a few chapters of this book that are written in first person from the point of view of a bottle of wine! Occasionally it slips back to first person in the middle of a third person chapter which I found a bit distracting.
The characters are all well developed and interesting. Jay is likeable as the main character, and Joe and Kerry are both vivid and realistic. Gilly is a feisty and fun character who shakes the young Jay up, and Marise is delicately portrayed as the haunted young woman with heavy secrets.
In part, the ending was a let down for me. There is a sub plot involving a grandmother who is not allowed to see her granddaughter and I didn't feel that this was resolved in as neat a way as it could be. On the other hand, I did like the changes in Jay's character by the end. I feel that the events of the novel affected him in a realistic way.
There is a definite theme of magic running through this book and I love how the author works it in to the story to make it seem utterly believeable. Quite how Jay comes to be interacting with a ghost from his past is very interesting, as is the power that the bottles of special wine seem to hold.
I loved this book because I love books that jump backwards and forwards in time, and I love books that have an element of the supernatural in a seemingly normal setting. I am currently reading "Chocolat" and will hopefully read other books by this author. I would recommend this book to anyone, but have deducted one star as I felt the ending could have been more clear-cut.
Blackberry Wine is one of a series of food related books written by Joanne Harris, more recognised for her bestselling books, Chocolat and Five Quarters of an Orange. The theme of all three books is gastronomy and each has its' merits as modern literature, whilst being different in their own ways. The style of Joanne Harris's work is distinctively different from many that write on the subject of rural life in France, and very authentic in the way it deals with interaction between french villagers, and this book is no exception though takes a very different stance from her other stories.
It would be difficult to explain how the author wrote the book from the point of view of a bottle of wine, although she achieved her aims and the story came over as very plausible. The wine in question is one that gains significance as the story develops, stemming back to childhood experiences of the main character, Jay Mackintosh, who gives up his life in the UK to chase a dream and to create a new life for himself in the small village of Lansquenet near Bordeaux.
Characters are portrayed very well indeed and leaping backwards and forwards from present day to those episodes within the childhood of Jay that are significant to the story construction, Harris makes a good clear distinction between the different eras by using whole chapters instead of trying to intermingle each era within one chapter. It's a very clear cut way of dealing with past and present, and the links between the life that Jay Mackintosh is living now, balanced against his life and connection with a character by the name of Joe Cox, who not only played a significant part in his childhood days back in Pog Lane, but who will continue to have an influence on Jay for his future.
Comparing this book with Five Quarters of an Orange, I feel that the latter was a better read, although this book does have it's merits in the logical linking of characters that pass each other on the road of life and leave an impact. The supporting characters are reasonably true to life, and what always stands out within the writings of Harris is her understanding of French mentality, rather than just surface observation.
Without giving too much of the story away, it is a worthy read, and the introduction of characters is sweet without reverting to the ridiculous. There is a good logical pattern to the story, and the characters of Marise and her mother in law, people that become part of Jay's story, are realistic and very readable and takes the reader through the decision making process that takes Jay away from the commercial and seemingly shallow lifestyle he is living to what offers him potential for self development.
The theme of the story being told by a bottle of wine is cleverly executed, and the significance of Joe as an important character in Jay's life is exceedingly well described, though here, it would be hard to say more without spoiling the story, and it's little bit of supernatural surprise.
The ending of the book was a little predictable, and not as well rounded as other Harris books. There were times during the reading of the book when the end could have wandered off into many directions, though took the easiest route, which was disappointing.
Was it worth buying ? Yes. For me, it completed the trilogy. Would I read it again ? Possibly, because the style of writing is pleasing and should certainly not be dismissed in the same manner as many popular fiction stories that I have read and that disappoint.
This was actually the second book of the trilogy and one can only assume acted as a learning process that lead to the successful writing of Five Quarters of an Orange, which was certainly the best of the bunch, though I feel that followers of Harris would deny themselves a full experience of the development of the writer and the complexity of her work if they didn't give this book a try.
I shall certainly look forward with anticipation to her most recent works, Jigs and Reels and The French Market and the weaknesses within the book were insufficient to quality as real disappointment.
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Black Swan; New Ed edition (2 April 2001)
I have a confession to make. I've read the novel Chocolat, but I think it isn't the best book by Joanne Harris, and personally, I think the movie is better. Sacrilege? Maybe - but opinion is opinion, no? And this is mine. But, I'm not going to review Chocolat. Rather, I've decided to review another book by Joanne Harris - Blackberry Wine. The reason I mention Harris' previous novel Chocolat is that this novel is set in the same small town in France - Lansquenet.
The story of this book is fairly complex, but I'll try to simplify it for you. Jay Mackintosh is a writer whose first hit novel "Jackapple Joe" was based on a man he met as a boy in the late 70s in an ex-mining town in England called Pog Hill. It's now 1999, however, and he hasn't written anything serious since - only junk novels under an assumed name. Suddenly, inspiration catches him and he impulsively buys a house in some no-where town in France, and leaves, determined to get back his muse.
My first impressions of this book were immediately mixed. The first chapter is actually told from the point of view of a bottle of wine. Yes, that's right - Fleurie, 1962 to be precise, and I assumed that the book was supposed to be totally from this viewpoint. Now, the main reason for this - I assume - is in order for the author to write in omnipresent. Clever, perhaps, but I immediately remembered something that John Irving once said about a short story that a student had written for one of his classes, from the viewpoint of a spoon. The problem is, we are not spoons - and nor are we bottles of wine. Therefore, it struck me as being a mechanic that was trying too hard to be clever. However, luckily for us all, Ms Harris must have realized this as well and while she continues to write in the omnipresent, she only seldom comes back to the bottles speaking for themselves. I also noticed that the wines were unable to get into the minds and/or bodies of anyone besides the protagonist (Jay), except after someone had consumed some of the bottle's contents.
Another thing that bothered me about this book was what I can only describe as laziness on the side of the author. This is not a sequel to Chocolat, and yet, Harris has placed this book back in Lansquenet, and has peppered it with many - if not all - of the minor characters from her previous novel. She even makes a passing reference to the story behind Chocolat, but neither Vianne Rocher nor her daughter Anouk actually appear in this story. I guess they had their 15 minutes of fame, and didn't need more here. Wise decision, if you ask me. Still, I felt that I was cheated by this, since Harris has such a wonderful knack of developing characters - even the minor ones. And yet, since these characters are already known from Chocolat, one feels that they have been trivialized here, and she doesn't do much to make them as well rounded as she could. My main thought was, had I not read Chocolat and already gotten to know these people, and then here they would have been very flat and one-dimensional. I think it was arrogant and, frankly, wrong that Harris seemed to assume her readers had previous knowledge of these characters.
Another aspect from Chocolat seems to have entered this book as well. Those who know the story of Chocolat will recall the grandmother who was forced to be estranged from her grandson because of the boy's mother. In Blackberry Wine we find another case of this estrangement while here, the grandmother is estranged from her granddaughter because the daughter-in-law is afraid that her mother-in-law might try to take the child from her. While in Chocolat this conflict comes to a satisfactory solution, here it is left as a loose end which I found to be dissatisfying.
However, despite these drawbacks, this book did have some redeeming factors. For instance, Harris likes to use flashbacks extensively in her novels. While some authors like to do this within a chapter, Harris likes her flashbacks to be in different chapters. Personally, I prefer this method, and have no trouble keeping track of where we are in the story when this method is used. Furthermore, these flashbacks give us valuable insights into the characters as they are in the present day of the story. In this way, we are relieved of tedious narration that talks about a character's past, and instead we are shown that past which is classic "show, don't tell". Unfortunately, in this book all of the flashbacks have to do with only Jay Mackintosh's past, and so we find ourselves with one character in this book that is fully rounded where most of the rest are left as two-dimensional at best. Personally, I think that a good character driven story is better than a plot driven one, so on one level I am willing to disregard this discrepancy.
Still, we seem to get enough of the minor characters' flavour to not feel totally deprived of their import in this story. For instance, rumours and conversations around Jay's neighbor, Marise d'Api (the woman who is keeping her daughter from her mother-in-law), give us enough background about her to set us up with our own prejudices about her, and then recant (at least some of) them as we get to know her first hand. Harris is a master at this push-and-pull with the reader leading you in one direction about a character through conjecture, and then allowing you to completely change your mind about that person when you get to know the truth. This is one of the reasons why I like reading Harris' books.
This doesn't mean that the plot doesn't intrigue as well. To the contrary, Harris seems to know how to get one wrapped up in the story as well as with the characters. In Blackberry Wine, we become involved in Jay's life on several different levels. On one level, we have his motivation to return to being a "real writer" and regain his muse. On another level, we have his attachment to the man who inspired his first novel Jackapple Joe and how Joe continues to be part of his life despite Jay's move across the channel. Yet another level is his relationship with the town and its inhabitants versus his cutting himself off from his previous girlfriend in London and his sham of a life there. There are even more levels than this, but it is Harris' simplicity of language mixed with a good deal of charm and wit that keeps all of these different levels in play without ever losing the reader's interest or complicating things beyond understanding. This is a rare gift indeed, and another reason why I'll continue to read Harris' books.
Finally, I have to say that the last reason why I like reading Harris' books, despite some of their shortcomings, is the way she imbues her stories with a sense of magic and the supernatural. This isn't to say that these are Harry Potter stories for adults not at all. No, Harris seems to believe that there are many unexplained things that happen to people which if we examine them too closely will lose their feeling of the extraordinary. Instead, she works these things into her character's lives and lets them help move her story along. In this book, it is the spirit of Jackapple Joe that embodies the exceptional things that happen to Jay both in his real-life actions and in his "haunting" (if you will) of Jay in France. It really is hard to say how she succeeds with this without the readers saying "oh, give it up, I just don't buy it" but somehow she does.
All in all, while I had some problems with this book, I still think that I would recommend people read it. There are compelling characters and an interesting story line mixed with a touch of the famous Harris fairy dust. This is a good easy read, which has short enough chapters to allow one to pick it up and put down at will, without feeling like you're missing something or will lose something in the interim. I'd say it may just be perfect for your summer holiday reading. This is why I'm giving it only three stars, but still recommending it to you all.
Thanks for reading!
This book can be purchased from Amazon.co.uk in paperback for £4.98 (with many used ones for much less). The hardcover edition is out of print, but I see a couple of people selling it from only £5!
Details of the book: Paperback 336 pages (April 2, 2001), Publisher: Black Swan, ISBN: 0552998001.
For those of you that don't know, I'm a bit of a fan of books. Well reading in general actually, magazines, newspapers, crisp packets, whatever. Writing a review of a book however is a completely different kettle of fish and up until now I've been a bit chicken about doing it. I've wanted to, you know ?. I just haven't done it. There are very few books where I've struggled to get into the story and wrap the characters around myself. Blackberry Wine was one of those rare books where I felt I really had to plough through the first few chapters until I got to a point where I could look forward to picking it up again next time. I always persevere though, and on this occasion I'm glad I did. The book begins to open up nicely a few chapters in, and you start to feel as if there might be a story to tell. But let's go back to the beginning shall we? Jay Mackintosh is a thirty seven year old writer living in London with his shallow and ambitious girlfriend, Kerry O'Neill. At the age of twenty three Jay published a hugely successful award winning novel, entitled Three Summers With Jackapple Joe, but has been suffering from a kind of writer's block ever since. He's written several science fiction novels under a pseudonym in the meantime, which have paid the bills nicely thank you very much, but has struggled with what he calls 'real' work. Drinking too much, dissatisfied and directionless, Jay spends his life wandering from one indistinct day to the next, clinging to the past and waiting for something to happen to him. Now with this being a book and all that, quite obviously something does happen to him. It wouldn't be much of a story if it didn't, now would it? Early on we are introduced to Jay's memories of Joe Cox, an old man with whom he often spent hours and hours at a time during the long days of the summer holidays. Sent to spend the summers with his grandparents in the North
ern Town of Kirby Monckton, Jay is left to his own devices and takes the opportunity to explore the local dump, railway line and canal, as well as helping Joe with his allotment where he grows the fruit and vegetables necessary to make his own very 'Special' blend of wine. Jay finds Joe's unusual ways fascinating; his use of red scraps of cloth as lucky charms, his inherent belief in the benefits of talismans, and the way he manages to hide himself in his little house in Pog Hill Lane, almost without anyone seeming to realise he is there. As Jay looks back on these summers with fondness and longing, he sees them as the best time of his life, something he longs to recreate. Joe has often talked of the places he has been and his dreams of moving on again one day, showing Jay the picture he has of the "chatto in Bordo" he hopes to buy. So when a brochure of holiday homes lands on Jay's doorstep one day, open at a familiar looking house marked For Sale, it has to be a sign. Doesn't it? Jay immediately buys the house and abandons his life in London, and everything that goes with it including Kerry, for the promise of a 'new' beginning in the tiny village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. Here he gradually becomes entwined in the lives of the locals, their hopes for Lansquenet and their beliefs about each other. He becomes intrigued by his mysterious neighbour, Marise d'Api, who never ventures into the village and keeps herself and her daughter, Rosa, secluded from prying villagers. A great source of gossip for the patrons of the Café des Marauds, Marise refuses to be drawn into conversation or friendships, leaving the circumstances surrounding the death of her husband Tony a mystery open to interpretation and exaggeration. A familiar face also appears once again when Joe suddenly materializes in Jay?s new house. He doesn't seem to live near Lansquenet, nor does he knock on the door when he arrives or leave
by it when he goes. He just appears. "Astral travel, lad. Astral bloody travel, how the bloody else d'you think I'd be able to do it if I was underground half me bloody life?" There are other characters you might recognise in Blackberry Wine. The café owner Josephine Muscat, the baker Poitou, the market gardener Narcisse, Georges and Caro Clairmont all had an outing in Joanne Harris's earlier novel, Chocolat. None play a central role in Blackberry Wine however and you certainly wouldn't need to have read Chocolat to understand the part they play here. There is something comforting in their inclusion however. Perhaps it's the sense of coming back to an old friend, maybe it's just that it makes their characters that much more developed. For me, you see, that's one of the places where Blackberry Wine falls down. Far too many of the characters feel underdeveloped and two dimensional. Even the central characters can feel a little shallow at times. Yes, we're told innumerable stories about Jay's childhood and experiences, but there just doesn?t seem to be enough emphasis on the way he thinks, the way he feels, what makes him tick. I felt as if I had to make a lot of assumptions about Jay's character from what I was told of his childhood. I don't expect to be spoon fed in a book; that would insult any reader's intelligence and take away the enjoyment of discovery. I just think I would have liked to have been guided a little bit more in the intricacies of his character, to feel like I knew him instead of just reading about him. It's a shame because Joanne Harris writes with such descriptive panache that the pages turn very easily in this book. The style is clear and comfortingly readable without patronising or boring you. It won't make you laugh with a great guffaw, or cry with empathy and suspense; but it will make you relax and settle gently into something undemand
ing and enjoyable. The chapters are short, making it easy to read just one more before you go to sleep, and the story jumps very neatly between tales of grown up Jay rediscovering life in Lansquenet, and school boy Jay getting into trouble at Pog Hill Lane. Maybe it's this chopping about that stopped me getting quite as into the characters as I would have liked. There's barely time to settle back into the relevant era before you're off again, travelling in a whirlwind of time. There's no doubt in my mind as to why I found this book a bit difficult to get in to at first though. The first few chapters are written from the perspective of a bottle of wine stuffed unceremoniously at the back of Jay's London cellar in the company of six of Joe's 'Specials'. I'm all for a fresh approach to writing and sometimes the unusual tactic of writing observationally from the point of view of an inanimate object can work really well. Unfortunately, here I found it faintly ridiculous, irritating and inconsistent. To a certain extent the whole book is written from the point of view of this bottle of wine, but it's done in such a half hearted way that I really wish it hadn't been done at all. I found the book much more enjoyable during the lengthy periods where I was able to forget all about this aspect of it. This book is really very clever in the way it effortlessly transcends so many genres. It includes magic and superstition without crossing into science fiction. It tantalises with love and the breaking down of barriers without being a love story. It's fictional with an edge of real life, believable and yet fanciful and embellished. In lots of ways I thoroughly enjoyed it but after the exotic draw of Chocolat I just expected more. I can't decide if three stars is harsh and bourn out of my own high expectations, or fair given that this is an opinion and this really reflects the way I feel. The end of
this book left me feeling dissatisfied and expecting a greater crescendo. It's a perfectly good ending and in keeping with the gentle, undramatic tone that prevails throughout the book. It just feels a bit rushed and perhaps a bit unfinished. Overall I would recommend this book. It's well written and enjoyable in its own right. Be warned though, that if you compare this to Chocolat, you're likely to be mighty disappointed.
Jay Mackintosh is a writer who is blocked. Frustrated by his stalled career, unhappy with his shallow, meaningless life and his pushy journalist girlfriend, Kerry, Jay seeks solace in the pleasures of the grape: more especially, the bottles of pungent home-made wines in his cellar, which seem to have magical properties. Wine talks, and in this novel much of the story is relayed by “Fleurie…a pert, garrulous wine, cheery and a little brash…”The wines seem to transport him back to a past where he was happy…. The child of a broken home, Jay spent much of his childhood in the company of a local eccentric, Joseph Cox, who lived in a ramshackle cottage by the side of the railway and cultivated his allotment. Joe regaled the impressionable young Jay with tales of his travels to far-flung, exotic lands, with stories of magic and country lore. He taught Jay how to tend the land and care for the crops, how to use magic as protection against evil, by using ritual, incantations and talismans. He allowed Jay to sample his “Specials”, bottles of homemade wine which tasted like “no other wine”. Jay was happy in Joe’s company. He believed in Joe and in Joe’s magic. Until that fateful day when the magic died. The land that Joe farmed was repossessed by its rightful owners, the Railway Company, and Jay returned to find the cottage boarded up and Joe gone, without a word of goodbye. So much for magic! So much for talismans! And yet…when Jay discovers a property for sale in France, the Chateau Foudouin, Lansqeunet-sous-Tannes, it seems like an omen. Joe had always dreamed of owning a chateau in France.Maybe here, Jay will recapture the magic he once knew. He buys the chateau and moves to France. Jay finds the chateau and the surrounding land in a state of disrepair, but he is determined to restore it. He soon makes friends with the inhabitants of Lansquenet (many of whom you will
recognise from the author’s previous best-selling novel Chocolat) Harder to get to know is Jay’s neighbour, the reclusive Marise, who lives alone with her deaf and dumb daughter Rosa, and who is shunned by the rest of the villagers. Jay has company at the chateau, though. His old friend, Joe, is there. But that’s impossible! Joe is surely dead by now…he was old when Jay was a child. Could it be Joe’s ghost, here, offering advice and words of wisdom? Whatever, Jay accepts his presence and comes to rely on this Joe just as much as he did on the real Joe. As the months go by, Jay lovingly restores the chateau and plants up the land with Joe’s help. He also manages to form a tentative relationship with Marise, even though the other villagers hint at some dark secret she is hiding. Jay also begins a new novel and finds that here in this little French village his Muse has returned. The “Specials”, those bottles of wine that Jay has brought with him from England, are drunk one by one, each helping to keep the magic alive, until at last, one bottle remains.Fleurie.To be saved for a very special occasion…. Blackberry Wine follows many of the themes found in Harris’s bestseller Chocolat, such as the food theme (in this case wine), magic and alchemy. It is an enchanting novel, which I could not put down. I was delighted to revisit Lansquenet and to meet up with some old friends. In fact, I think the novel really takes off once Jay arrives at his château. I was so enthralled by Chocolat that I was hoping that I would not be disappointed by Blackberry Wine.I wasn’t. I loved it!Joanne Harris weaves magic with her pen.
My mum bought this book for when we went on holiday to France, and she said that it Was Really strange, but quite good, so I decided to read it as well, when we got back to England. I haven't seen chocolat or read any other books by Joanne Harris, so I cannot make a comparison, but that can be a good thing though, because I can review it as an individual book in its own right. <The plot> The story starts off with a struggling writer, Jay, who about fifteen years ago wrote a bestselling novel based on his youth in Yorkshire, Jackapple Joe. He is uninspired, and writes trashy sci-fi novels and teaches in a university; on top of this he has a trashy girlfriend who is only interested in fame and money. But one night, he opens one of the five wines that were given to him when he was a boy, and the memories of his teenage summers come back to him. The novel switches between present day, and the summers between 1975-77, when he was sent off to his grandparents in Yorkshire, but ended up befriending a strange old man called Joe who was into magic, gardening and full of stories of his travels. At a sudden impulse, he leaves London after seeing an advert for a chateau in Lansquenet, which looks just like one that Joe said he was going to live in, and immediately buys it. Instantly he seems to make friends with the quaint locals, some of whom seem to avoid him at first, but eventually as good word goes around, he becomes popular. There is also the mystery of Marise, a strange woman who people say drove her husband to kill himself. While all this is going on, Jay gradually drinks the wine, and Joe makes an appearance. At first Jay is confused, but then he seems to accept him without question. There is also the mystery of what is Joe? He says that he astrally projects himself, but I think that he?s a ghost. Anyway, I'd better stop now, as I don?t want to give away the story, or the ending for that matter! <The setting> The story is set in
Pog Hill, Yorkshire and Lansquenet in France. Both are rural settings, with an old population, and I think that both are idealistic. One of the many themes in this book seems to be that rural settings are better than urban settings, as Jay leaves London for the rural French village. Some of the French villagers want Lansquenet to be urbanised. However from the way they are portrayed - as idealistic men jumping on any old band wagon - the reader doesn't take them too seriously, and the effect is that we are convinced that the rural village is better than a big town. <The characters> The characters are very colourful, and Harris knows who to manipulate what you think of them by their descriptions. There are also strange parallels between the French villagers, and the people he knew from Pog Hill, for example, there is an unemotional gardener called Narcisse, who is very much like Joe, and the little girl, Rosa, is physically similar to Gilly, a girl that he knew one summer. <The writing style> The writing style is clear and easy to follow, without being boring and too simple. First of all it is a bottle of wine talking, and I think that it is supposed to remain the narrator all of the way through, but after a while the reader forgets this, and it settles down into a normal 3rd person narrative. The novel flicks back to Jay?s youth every few chapters, so we get a bit of variety, and it's not one solid story all the way through, and I like that. <What is the effect of the novel on the reader? > The novel is definatly worth reading to the end, not just because it's a really good book, but also because the story picks up speed and develops a lot in the last 70 or so pages. A lot is revealed in the ending, that money and fame isn't anything, that some things are better left as they are and that you can carry on doing what other people did before they died.
After reading the first few pages for the book I was hooked. The story is 'told' by a bottle of Fleurie 1962 wine, which was bought on the year of Jay's birth. It is a tale of mystery and a little magic about Jay Mackintosh. Jay is a young boy in 1975 whoses parents are divorced and more preoccupied with their own lifes to pay much attention to his. He spends the summer of 1975 at his grandmother's house in the Northern Town of Kirby Monckton, where he stumbles across Joe Cox, an eccentric old man who teaches Jay a little magic about life. The next few summers with Joe influence Jay's life so much that he wrote a best selling novel about 'Jackapple Joe' and becomes a celebrated writer. After Jay's initial success he is no longer able to write anything other than the kind of trashy sci-fi fiction he read as a child. Jay has a collection of wines known as the 'Specials' left behind when Joe disappeared from Poghill Lane. The Specials contain a kind of magic for Jay and travel to the French village of Lansquenet with him when he escapes the madness of London and the endless parties and talks he feels compelled to attend. In Lansquenet Jay rediscovers his ability to write and is visited on several occassions by the 'image' of his old friend Joe. He is never really sure if Joe is actually there or if his imaginationis playing tricks on him because of the wine. Joe's magic helps Jay to unlock a terrible secret his new neighbour has been harbouring since the death of her husband ... and it is all down to the 'Specials'. A worth while read.
It was reading 'Chocolat' which encouraged me to try Joanne Harris' 'Blackberry Wine'. I had enjoyed the quirky, different feel of 'Chocolat' and hoped to find more of the same. "Touching, funny and clever" is how the Daily Telegraph describe 'Blackberry Wine'. "Strange, weird and perhaps-I'll-read-something-else" were my initial perceptions. Here's a taster from the opening couple of paragraphs - see what you think. "Wine talks. Everyone knows that. Look around you. Ask the oracle at the street corner; the uninvited guest at the wedding feast; the holy fool...Take me, for instance. Fleurie, 1962. Last survivor of a crate of twelve, bottled and laid down the year Jay was born." Yes. This book appears to be narrated by a 1962 bottle of blackberry wine. By half way down the second page, my feelings of doubt about the book were beginning to strengthen. I began to wonder how much of a book narrated by a bottle of wine I could successfully read. Although I enjoy the odd glass (or two) I don't know a lot about wine, and it was beginning to look as if this could be a disadvantage. I have to confess that I peeped at the introductory paragraph of the next chapter, just to see whether the writing was going to continue in the same vein... Well, thank goodness I did! Once past the first chapter ( and I know of two other people who didn't read on because they thought the whole book was going to be the same) I found myself drawn into a magical, many-layered love story, with genuine characters in whose fate I became completely involved. (And no wine knowledge necessary either - yippee!!) Set partly in Yorkshire in the 1970s and partly in France in 1999, 'Blackberry Wine' is the story of once successful writer Jay Mackintosh and, as I see it, his struggle to find his place in the world. There are several other important characters - Kerry, Jay's pushy,
self-obsessed girlfriend; 'Jackapple' Joe, an old man befriended by Jay in the summer of 1975,who brews wine from potatoes and believes strongly in magic, and Marise, Jay's beautiful and disturbing neighbour in the French village of Lansquenet (the same setting as 'Chocolat'). Other characters also play important roles in the development of the story and of Jay himself, but those I have mentioned have the most impact. There are characters from 'Chocolat' who become more developed in 'Blackberry Wine'. Although it is interesting to see them in more depth, 'Blackberry Wine ' stands alone and you do not need prior knowledge of these characters to enjoy them. The book begins with Jay struggling to reconcile his current life with that he remembers so vividly in 1975. The book jumps back and forth between the two dates, so that the reader can see how Jay has grown, and the way his experiences have changed his lfe. I am not going to retell the story for two reasons: obviously because then you wouldn't need to read the book! Secondly, I don't feel equal to the task - the alternating beteewn countries and decades adds so much to the appeal of the book that I would not do it justice. Instead, I will say this. When a picture has been painted of 1970s Northern England, and of Jay's adolescent fantasies, relationships and adventures, of his successes and many failures, Joe disappears. It may seem that there is nothing odd in this: Jay has been away at school. The coal mine has been closed down, and with that clsoure has come deprivation. Joe's home (which was never truly his own) has been earmarked for demolition. Joe himself was old and in ill health. Jay feels let down. However, what is so tantalising about this book is the fact that, running concurrently with events in Yorkshire, Jay is rebuilding a home in France, twenty or so years later, under the very watchful eye of Joe. So clever is Joanne Ha
rris, that you don't really know if he is there,whether he is a figment of Jay's imagination, or whether it's all magic... What is clear, though, is that Jay is reliant upon Joe, although he does not admit to it, and that he cannot move on without Joe's advice and help, be it real or imagined... Are you still with me? 'Cos that brings us to the love element of the story. At the beginning, we see Jay with Kerry, shallow and unsentimental, exasperated that Jay does not live up to her ideal. Kerry is not Jay's ideal either, and this feeling is reiterated when she turns up in Lansquenet later on, to use the problems in the village for her own means. Marise, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely. Distant, distracted and full of secrets - "A fierce independence, tenderness for her daughter, pride in her work, in the house, in the land. A way of smiling, grave-seeming, but with a kernel of sweetness. A way of listening in silence, an economy of movement which belied the quick mind, the occasional wry twist of humour beneath the practicality." Everything which Kerry could never be. I'll say no more on that! On a very simple level, then, 'Blackberry Wine' is a love story. But it is more than that. There are social commentaries (the running down of the coal mines in Yorkshire, the problems caused by over-farming and over-development in rural France). There are issues of class and race (middle class families breaking up, gypsy settltments 'strangers in our midst'). There are relationship issues (generation gaps, problems between child and parent, between lovers and enemies). There is a constant magical air, a feeling of looking down and watching intently as a story unfolds. And, if you can see past the wine as narrator, and go back and read the first paragraph again, it all makes so much sense. "Wine talks...It ventriloquizes. It has a million voices. It unleashes the tongue, tea
sing out the secrets you have never meant to tell, secrets you never even knew. It shouts, rants, whispers..." Read and be mesmerised!
Having seen Chocolat and not yet read the book I saw this book and thought it better to read a book which I hadn't seen a film production of first. I selected Blackberry Wine having remmebered the sensation of Chocolat and the real taste as you watched the film. Being a lover of French Wine and France I thought that this book could happily betray my senses into beliving I was in France sipping beautiful french wine, no matter where I was reading it from. Well I started reading the book which is set first of all in a vilage called Pog Hill. Jay is a little boy on holiday at his Grandparents house. He is looking for something special and someone to care about him (since he lives with his mum a busy buisness women and his parents are seperated), when he comes across Joe an ex miner who believes in magic and more. Joe an ex miner reads magazines and believes that he has travelled the world and would love a vinyard in France to settle down in and grow his many rare plants and vegetables and fruit. His alotment type garden is nothing flash but the things he grows in it are more special than you can imagine. Jay has some special summers with Joe and eventually Gilly a young gypsey who he befriends and who manages to encourage him to do things that really he probably shouldn't like blowing up wasp nests. Jay later becomes a famous author having wrote a novel called Jackapple Joe, which was based around his experiences at Pog Hill, but since then he has suffered from writers block and a girlfriend has tried to get him involved with big names who could assist in helping his career take off again by inviting him to all the right parties. But Jay has only wrote 1 good novel. Jay begins to get sick of this and one day spots a newspaper clipping for the sale of a vineyard in France. He then buys the property on impluse. When he arrives at the village he discovers many interesting people and he begins to write
a new novel but this time it is absed on these people of the village. There are many underlying stories about these people and his uinterpretation of some very special lady from the farm next to his is very far from the truth, but to even give one example of the stories would spoil the book, so I won't. His past then catches up to him after appearence of Joe at the farm. It's his exgirlfriend who he ran away from she has found him and wants to help launch his new book by doing a documentary on him as an englishman living aboroad. But Jay see's both the ups and downs for both himself and the people who he has grown to love in the village. So which way will he turn and will magic play apart?
After reading Chocolat I swiftly moved on to Blackberry Wine, and could not have been more delighted. I love this book; it is my favourite book without a doubt. It tells of Jay, a writer with a failing relationship who hasn't been able to get the creative juices flowing really since his first book about an old friend he would give anything to meet again. His times with Joe he sees as the happiest days of his life and it is only when he sees a picture of a farmhouse in France years later that he thinks he can rekindle his past by making this exactly what Joe, a keen gardener, would have wanted it to be. This book is split nicely through two times lines- one of Jay as a child and one much later as a adult and flits backwards and forwards with most chapters. Like Chocolat, Blackberry Wine is magical and heartfelt. Joanne Harris makes the characters into your neighbours, or your brother or your friend. She seems to bring everything close to home, in an almost intoxicating manner. As a novel of mystery, I felt within the realms of the novel as if I too was inhabiting that world. I like the desciptive style and the manner in which she represents her characters; like a mother, both devoted but ever so slightly critical of mistakes. So it is the combination of a very strong story and also a readable style that lead me to recommend this novel.
There is a vicious perception that Joanne Harris is a girls author, she writes books aimed at the female audience. Poppy cock is what I say to that. Joanne Harris writes thoughtful novels, in a wonderfully indulgent style (guys appreciate literature too you know), so ignore the perception and give the lady a go. Semi-rant over, lets begin, you must have heard of Chocolat, even if it was also a film which made somewhat of a pig?s ear of a wonderful book (sigh, how many times do film makers do that?) Yes, Joanne Harris wrote that book and it was a charming read, whilst also being slightly provocative at the same time. The follow-up has a similar foody/drinky theme and as you will have guessed is called Blackberry Wine. This time, instead of magical chocolate, being the food theme, we have magical fruit wine as the drink theme. However, this is not a novel about wine it is far more than that, let me enlighten you. Jay Mackintosh, is approaching middle age, he is trapped in a loveless relationship, with the rather fake and media crazy, Kerry. Drunk for most of the day and angry at who knows what, Jay is a blocked writer. This is not a small blockage, this has gone on for 15 years, since he wrote his one smash book, Jackapple Joe. In the meantime, he has been writing trashy Sci-Fi novels, under a pseudonym. Jay's problem is his preoccupation with a time in his adolescence, a time of mystery and magic, of rambling the wild hills of Yorkshire and spending his summers with an eccentric old man, named Joe. Joe, was a gardener, not any old gardener, but one who shunned chemicals and had gone back to pagan gardening techniques; lunar cycles governing his planting, strange herbal mixes providing protection for his plants and a rather strange potato providing the main ingredient for his fruit wine. Does Joe, practice a kind of magic long forgotten, or is this just in Jay's mind? Jay, escapes to the French village of Lansquen
t (the setting for Chocolat), buying a scruffy old chateau and trying to hide from the rest of the world. When he is joined by Joe, he is unsure whether he is hallucinating, or whether Joe really is practicing astral travel. Here he is seen by certain village members as a way to break Lansquent onto the tourist map and by others as a foreign influence and a danger to the traditional way of life, still pottering along in Lansquent as the outside world gathers commercial pace. Jay, finds a kind of peace, becomes unblocked and starts to come to terms with his childhood memories, but can it last and can he hide forever? It is there that we will leave the plot of this wonderful book, except for one point, some of the old characters from Chocolat return, Caro the interfering busy body, Narcisse the market gardener, Josephine, the now liberated café owner, Roux the gypsy and George the builder. This adds some kind of continuity to the book from Chocolat, but to be honest the book did not need this, Harris creates wonderful characters and I am sure she could have populated a new French village. I got the feeling that the continuity in certain characters was to let readers of Chocolat know that things for Josephine had in fact worked out ok. But enough of the moan, the book is really not damaged nor enhanced by the semi-continuity from Chocolat. The book is written in flashback form, with Jay, remembering his childhood summers with Joe and the trials of growing up and missing the wonderful simplicity of childhood are explored using this method. Blackberry Wine, therefore, slips in and out of two separate but linked stories, in an ambitious style, but nothing is lost in the flow of the book because of this. In Blackberry Wine, Harris has recaptured that wonderful descriptive writing style, she flourishes with beautiful descriptions of the smell of herbs, the character of wine; "He pours me, releasing the scents of summers forgott
en and places long past". What you say, he pours me! Yes, part of this book is written from the perspective of an old bottle of wine, what it has seen and what it has heard in its long life in a wine cellar. I love a novel that takes a lateral approach to writing both in style and from point of view and in this respect Blackberry Wine scores very well. The extracts written from the point of view of the wine, work well and add a kind of stepped back perspective to the book. But as with Chocolat, there is social commentary in Blackberry Wine. Firstly, the desire to commercialise everything is attacked, with Le Pinot, a village in the same area of France as Lansquenet having been transformed into a tourist haven, several villagers from Lansquenet, want the same for their village, with all the trimmings that go with it, high land prices and commercial opportunities. What Harris points out, is with the theme village, comes the loss of traditional values and practices and the driving out of locals as they can no longer afford the price of land in the area. Kerry, Jay's erstwhile girlfriend epitomises the commercial age, savouring the chance to make money and gain publicity and taking this ahead of respecting people's wishes. Second, Blackberry Wine points out, that with mass farming, we have lost the small vineyards that produce such distinctive wines, the small market gardens that produce strange species of vegetable. The diversity has gone from production, to be replaced by the mass production of the most popular foods. Blackberry Wine, may reflect the feelings of many people, with the shift for more natural production and organic food gathering momentum. The book is also about the childhood memories that we cherish. Do we as adults have a rose tinted slant on our childhood. Were events really as we perceive them now? Blackberry wine is another charming offering from Joanne Harris, it is not as magical, or enth
ralling as Chocolat, and the storyline noticeably sags during the middle portion, rather than keeping your attention all the way through. But it soon picks up again, to accelerate to a rather surprising ending, well in part anyway. You are left wondering, was their magic in that wine. Harris has retained that wonderfully indulgent descriptive, yet smooth writing style, that made Chocolat such an easy book to read and as the reader, the beautiful descriptive prose was a pleasure to read. If you liked Chocolat, you will like this, it is a story about discovery of self after many lost years. Blackberry Wine is published by Black Swan, is priced at £6.99 (although I purchased it for £3.50, from Amazon) and is 334 pages long.
Jay Mackintosh is trapped by memory in the old familiar landscapes of his childhood, more enticing than the present, and to which he longs to return. A bottle of home-brewed wine left to him by a long-vanished friend seems to provide both the key to an old mystery and a doorway into another world. Jay Mackintosh, once a literary star, is stalled. He spends his time writing second rate science fiction, leading a hollow media life and drinking: Not to forget, but to remember, to open up the past and find himself there again. Nice, expensive wines don't do the trick, it's the six Specials, a gift from Joe, an old friend, that are the magical elixir. Just like Proust's lime blossom tea, they give him the gift of his memories but also unlock his future; Jay escapes the rut of his London life and buys a house in Lansquenet.