Review: Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris

Blackberry Wine is the story of Jay who, disillusioned with life, ups and moves to rural France in search of a simpler life, a place to write his second novel, and a quest to face the truth about old friends he once knew and to embrace the memories that he allows to come flooding back. It’s the story of Joe too, the eccentric old man who was once – and continues to be – a great friend to Jay, the father-figure that he’d always craved for perhaps, a guiding light through Jay’s formative teenage years, and the man who threw Jay’s mind into turmoil from the day that they met.

From the very first page, you know this book is going to be a little different, narrated as it is by a bottle of wine, listening to the whisperings of Joe’s ‘Specials’ wine in the cellar whilst following with remarkable detail the journey of Jay’s life. It’s a curious technique – charming perhaps, quirky most definitely – that at first I enjoyed but later, it grated on me. I found myself wondering how the wine could tell what was going on outdoors, or how the wine knew what different characters were feeling. As a prologue, narrated by a bottle of wine, it was a nice idea – a warm and comforting way to start a novel, but as the book progressed and the occassional first-person narration popped up out of the blue, I found myself wishing Harris had left it to just the prologue – and perhaps the epilogue too.

Still that far from ruined it for me. It was thoroughly enjoyable throughout. The characters were intriguing and the tale was, whilst meandering, entertaining and most definitely page-turning. In fact, I was reading until 3am this morning, my eyes sore with the prickles of tiredness. It’s a quaint book, one that tells a warm and winding tale of friendship, or love, of coming of age even. It’s packed to the rafters with mysteries which, for the most part, have satisfactory conclusions, and it’s filled with a sense of nostalgia throughout. Even the somewhat less mainstream ideas that are hinted at – magic and witchcraft and mysticism – seem to fit well, despite the charming rural French setting.

It’s not necessarily a book for always – an overarching book that beats all your moods and emotions and pulls you in. No, it’s much more subtle than that. It’s gentle like the noise of the trees in a breeze, and waivering like the visible heat of summer. It doesn’t pull you in, dragging you by your hair and demanding you listening. Instead, it presents itself, holds its arms open and welcomes you but forces nothing. If you come, you come and if not, well, so be it. It’s not in-your-face, it’s not clamouring for your attention or searching for love, but it’ll be there for you when you’re ready, all the same. It appealed to the francophile in me and allowed me to explore a new set of people, a different life, a plot that I could never have guessed at. It’s a book for those calm moments in life, and it really is escapism at its best.

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