I really liked Joanne Harris’s writing style in Chocolat, and was waiting to read more books by her. So, when I recently came across a copy of Blackberry Wine for a steal, I grabbed it immediately. I am happy to tell you that, like Chocolat, Blackberry Wine too doesn’t disappoint.
Blackberry Wine is a sort of sequel to Chocolat – it is not a continuation of the story of Chocolat as such, but is set in the same charming, little French village of Lansquenet and involves a few of the same characters as the former book. Blackberry Wine is the story of Jay Mackintosh, an English writer, a one-book wonder, who has been struck by writer’s block for over fifteen years after the huge success of his first book Jackapple Joe. The world has been waiting and waiting for a second book from Jay, but he seems to be unable to write at all. Kerry, who seems to be Jay’s live-in girlfriend, a reporter and a wannable TV star, tries her best to take him to the ‘right’ sort of parties and introduce him to the ‘right’ sort of people, but he seems to be uninterested.
What seems to have really afflicted Jay is his missing of his friend, Joe, an old man he met as a child at his grandparents’ village of Pog Hill, a former miner, who went on to be the role model for Jay’s masterpiece Jackapple Joe. Joe is a magical person, with extremely green thumbs, who seems to possess the ability to grow any kind of plant successfully, a specialist in making little protective charms using natural ingredients, home-made wines and home remedies – everyday magic, as Joe calls it. He seems to have the uncanny knack of understanding Jay’s troubled mind, and soothes him with his tales of travel across the world and his words of advice. Joe grows to become a grandfather figure to Jay, someone who stays in his memory long after the two separate.
One fine day, Jay comes across a brochure advertising a farmhouse in the village of Lansquenet, as if by magic, just when he needed it the most. He buys the farmhouse on an impulse, without even seeing it, and heads for Lansquenet, leaving behind a furious Kerry, and no trace of his whereabouts. The farmhouse that Jay buys is exactly like the one Joe had been eyeing for himself, and so, it really comes as no surprise to Jay when he encounters Joe there. Joe teases Jay, nudges and pushes him when he needs him, and unashamedly tells him what he needs to hear. And, as if he never had any block ever, words begin to flow from Jay’s hands, and his second novel begins to take shape. Meanwhile, Jay learns more about life in Lansquenet, and about his neighbour, the pretty Marise, a highly anti-social, wild woman whose way the villagers take care to stay out of.
Blackberry Wine has the same crisp and clear, yet captivating writing style of Joanne Harris as Chocolat. The narration is simple, and I liked the way the author has not tried to cram as many events as possible into each chapter. The chapters of the book flow simply and smoothly, and you hardly know it when you reach the end of it. Like Chocolat, Blackberry Wine too has the right mix of magic and reality. It is not as dark or deep as Chocolat, and is a lighter read, but all the characters in this book, too, are grey – a mix of white and black.
Some things, though, are a bit too unbelievable in Blackberry Wine – like Jay’s finding just the farmhouse that Joe wanted, in a flash of serendipity, his meeting Joe there, and his writer’s block suddenly disappearing. But then, I guess, that’s what ‘magic’ is like – unbelievable to the cynical mind. Moreover, I wasn’t too taken by the idea of a bottle of wine being the narrator of the story (Yes! The story of Blackberry Wine is narrated by a bottle of wine!), or by the mysterious Marise’s secrets, but then, again, that is quintessential Joanne Harris for you.
In spite of the bits of the book that didn’t quite sit well with me, I was hooked to it till the end, unable to put it away. I think that is what a good writer does to you – even though you don’t like all of the story, the way the story has been written makes you want to read all of it.
Overall, I enjoyed reading the book. I love the raw, rustic elements that the author puts into her stories, the basic emotions of the characters that she sketches, and her simple way of narration. The author’s writing is evocative, creating images in your head – I could smell those blackberries and see the lavender and thyme that she talks about in this book. I am definitely going to hunt for more books by her. And, I think, I have finally fallen for the magic realism genre. It is an interesting genre, and not as weird as I had initially thought it would be.
Go on, pick up a copy of Blackberry Wine for yourself. You won’t be disappointed!
PS: I don’t know why, but the character of Joe in this book kept reminding me of the old man in this ad. 🙂