Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris

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Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: A disillusioned writer makes an impulsive and life-changing decision short review: Jay buys an old farm in France on impulse, and learns to live again in his new surroundings.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 336 Date: April 2001
Publisher: Black Swan
ISBN: 978-0552998000

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The plot of this novel revolves around Jay, a rather disillusioned writer who completed one brilliant book, years previously, and a great deal of junk fiction. He's married to the ultra-smart and supercilious Kerry, but one day, on impulse, decides to buy an old farm in France - and then moves there, out of the blue. Most of the novel revolves around his re-finding his writing muse, getting the farm into some kind of shape, and getting to know the neighbours.

But that's only the current (1999) side of the book. Interwoven between the modern plot are Jay's memories of 1975, when he was a rather fed-up teenager who befriended an elderly eccentric called Joe. Joe taught Jay all he knows about plants and herbs, and also about preserving and wine-making. Wine is an important motif in the book - so much so that its narrator (in places) is, rather bizarrely, a bottle of wine. Surprisingly this works well; the bottle-as-narrator is not intrusive, and most of the book is told from the third-person viewpoint of Jay.

There's magic too, in a low-key earthy sort of way. Talismans against bullies, incantations against attack, even some sequences (perhaps) of astral travel. But they all happen in such matter-of-fact surroundings that they don't jar with the rest of the plot at all. Jay begins to come to terms with his past as he relaxes in his new surroundings and learns the truth about some of his neighbours.

All in all, a pleasant book, and ideal to read when there's a lot going on, since it was quite possible to read a couple of short chapters at night, and not feel the need to keep going until the early hours. Even so, I was surprised to find that it took me three weeks to finish a book of only 330 pages. Probably not one I'll read again, but enjoyable while it lasted. It was the second novel I read by Joanne Harris, and I liked it sufficiently to look for her other work too. You might also enjoy The Night Rainbow by Claire King.

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