Doubleday, 2001 (2000)
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Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
oanne Harris writes gourmet literature. It was hard to imagine what might follow the rich, decadent pleasures of
is a worthy successor. It begins '
' and is notable as the first story of my acquaintance to be narrated by a bottle of wine, and not any old wine at that, but my favourite type of Beaujolais, a vintage (1962) Fleurie ... '
a pert, garrulous wine, cheery and a little brash, with a pungent taste of blackcurrant
'. There is chemistry between the wine and its owner, Jay Mackintosh, author of bestseller
. Unfortunately all he has been able to write since is second-rate science fiction with titles like
Psy-Wrens of Mars
he story flips back and forth in time between the 70's and the present day. Almost accidentally, Jay unseals a bottle of dusky-pink Jackapple 1975, which evokes old memories of adolescent encounters with Joe Cox. Unhappy and angry, Jay stayed in Kirby Monckton with stiff grandparents in the wake of his parents' divorce. As in Harris' previous novel, the most interesting people live in the run-down areas and Jay met Joe and others in the '
' of Nether Edge. Joe lived in Pog Hill Lane by the railway, an old canal and a dump. These memories propel Jay out of his life of limbo and he impulsively purchases a French property, the Ch2teau Foudouin in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes (the same village as in
, but Vianne has moved elsewhere).
oe was a gardener who made magic with fruit and herbs. '
With Joe, Chinese medicine rubbed shoulders companiably with English folklore, chemistry with mysticism
.' He made wine from jackapple potatoes, seeded from South America. His other Specials included raspberry, elderflower, blackberry, rosehip and damson wines, which bottled a '
hive of secrets
'. Joe shared his dream of a '
' with his young friend, sowing the seeds of Jay's relocation to France. Having decided to go, Jay speaks to his last evening class with passion about his art '
Where's the magic ... Where are the magic carpets and Haitian voodoo and lone gunslingers and naked ladies tied to railway lines?
'. In fact, comments on writing form a fascinating aside throughout this novel.
n his new home Jay sees apparitions of his old friend, who speak to him as Joe used to do, with casual advice on gardening and on life. He writes a second novel, as good as the first, and understands that all Joe meant to him was not '
fakery and lies
' after all. He meets his neighbour, Marise, a mysterious young woman, isolated from the village and the target of vicious gossip. Jay slowly sifts truth from the tales that he hears and gets to know the villagers and, more slowly, Marise and her daughter Rosa. Jay drops in often to the Caf9 des Marauds. He chats with its proprietor Jos9phine, who explains the magic of Lansquenet '
It isn't just a village. The houses aren't just places to live. Everything belongs to everybody. Everyone belongs to everyone else. Even a single person can make a difference
hat last sentence encapsulates the magic of both
. As Vianne and Jos9phine did before him, Jay acts to make a difference and protect a way of life. When he drinks the Fleurie in celebration, it glimpses its own story's ending '
through a glass, darkly
.' A marvellous tale, not just for oenophiles.
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