The Vintage and the Gleaning by Jeremy Chambers
|The Vintage and the Gleaning by Jeremy Chambers|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A novel that gets under the skin of a country town community in Australia through the eyes of an Aussie 'battler' whilst he struggles against the ravages of time, ill-health and a past life laden with regret-tinged memories. One of this year's gems, this is a story that will absorb and elicit every emotion apart from boredom.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: April 2012|
|Publisher: MacLehose Press|
Smithy, a retired sheep shearer, now works on a vineyard in the countryside of Victoria, Australia. Too poor to retire and too ill from the after effects of his former alcoholic lifestyle to return to the physically arduous world of shearing, he exists rather than lives amongst his mates and near his son and daughter-in-law. Meanwhile rumours abound about the deeds of local thug, Brett Clayton and, whether true or not, he's definitely someone to be avoided. However, when Brett's wife Charlotte leaves him and asks Smithy to take her in, he does so without a second thought. Sheltered under his roof and protection, Charlotte confides in Smithy, forcing him to remember his own past and dreams. Meanwhile the unspoken question remains: Brett knows where Charlotte is so what's he going to do about it?
Melbournite Jeremy Chambers was so inspired by his student job in a vineyard that he wrote this, his debut novel. My first reaction, therefore, is to be grateful to whoever employed him as this is a beautiful creation. The Vintage and the Gleaning' could so easily have been a dirge but in the hands of this author it's witty, deep, sad, menacing and... well... bonzer. (That's a good thing to be, by the way.)
Smithy is the kind, caring, strong, silent type. As part of an Australian generation of men unable to express emotion or needs, he just keeps his head down and works. Smithy is the sort of person who's the quiet backbone of the community but has no sense of his own worth due to it being desecrated by the thoughtless words of an uninformed doctor during his childhood. His mates' sense of Smithy is based on the fact that he's a non-drinker and therefore total anathema in their midst. They respect Smithy but, as the pub is the hub of their recreational time, they don't fully understand his reluctant adherence to lemon squash as a beverage of choice. He may still be part of their group but Smithy is very much outside looking in as a sober spectator and therefore becomes an ideal narrator to a readership that is equally peripheral but for different reasons.
Charlotte Clayton is also an outsider so their gravitation towards each other seems natural as mismatched by age as they are. Charlotte is on the edges due to her marriage to the town's most dreaded citizen, trading companionship and the dreams of her youth for isolation and small town claustrophobia. Through Charlotte we learn about Brett and the reasons for his anger. They're reasons rather than excuses but the author ensures that we know enough to fine tune the knee jerk judgement we may have initially formed.
The other vineyard workers are a wonderful crowd of none too bright but salt of the earth types, providing the humorous moments. For instance a response from one being told someone was in prison for wife battering: Who did they hit? Jeremy Chambers' talent doesn't stop there. He has a great ear for the rhythm of speech; you don't have to have lived in Australia to hear the accent in the writing, even though it's not written in vernacular. It's all in the timing and whispered directly into the reader's mind; something that needs this level of skill to pull off successfully. Similarly there's a cloud of wistfulness hanging over the novel along with great (in every sense of the word) chunks of monologue (both internal and external) from Smithy and Charlotte but it never gets boring or flags in any way. Rather than skip through it, I found myself wanting to savour every word and each resulting revelation.
Jeremy Chambers gives us the opportunity to eavesdrop on real people leading lives that may be geographically and emotionally many miles from our own and yet we still empathise with them as we grow more deeply acquainted. When it comes down to it, Jeremy Chambers is (not to put too fine a point on it) an Australian John Steinbeck and so the eavesdropping becomes more than an opportunity; it's a privilege.
I would like to thank MacLehose Press for providing Bookbag with a copy of this book for review.
If you've enjoyed this and would like to see what else Australian literature has to offer, try The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Vintage and the Gleaning by Jeremy Chambers at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Vintage and the Gleaning by Jeremy Chambers at Amazon.com.
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