Title: Blackberry Wine
Author: Joanne Harris
Published: March 2nd, 2000
Everyday magic, he called it. The transformation of base matter into the stuff of dreams. Layman’s alchemy.Jay Mackintosh is trapped by memory in the old familiar landscapes of his childhood, more enticing than the present, and to which he longs to return.
A bottle of home-brewed wine left to him by a long-vanished friend seems to provide both the key to an old mystery and a doorway into another world. As the unusual properties of the strange brew take effect, Jay escapes to a derelict farmhouse in the French village of Lansquenet, where a ghost from the past waits to confront him, and the reclusive Marise – haunted, lovely and dangerous – hides a terrible secret behind her closed shutters. Between them, a mysterious chemistry. Or could it be magic?
I was really excited about starting this book, but also rather nervous because this was my first time reading a Joanne Harris book that wasn’t part of the Chocolat trilogy, which I absolutely love. The synopsis sounded interesting enough, and the fact that it’s partially set in Lansquenet really piqued my interest, because this meant that it was technically taking place within the “Chocolat-verse”. Well it was definitely a book in its own right, and the fact that it briefly mentioned a few of the Chocolat characters was just a nicely added bonus.
It didn’t take long for me to get really into the story, though it did take a bit of time for me to start liking the main character, Jay. Or perhaps liking isn’t the right word, because that would mean I disliked him at first, which wasn’t the case at all. He fascinated me from the beginning, but I guess I was somewhat indifferent about him at first. But once I got to know more about his background he suddenly became a very interesting character. And I loved his impulsiveness. I mean, deciding on a whim that you’re going to buy a chateau and move to France is just completely brilliant, right? I think that’s the moment when I started to really like Jay as a character.
Another aspect of the story that I really liked is that there were essentially two different stories going on simultaneously. There was the present-day story of Jay’s life in France, and the story of his childhood in the North of England and his meetings with the mysterious but definitely loveable, and most of all colourful, Joe. I didn’t find the jumping from one story to the other confusing at all, and I think Harris handled the transition from one narrative to the other really well. There was a great flow to the story which made it an easy and enjoyable read.
One other thing I need to mention that I really loved was the way in which the story was narrated, because part of the novel was actually narrated by the bottles of wine, Joe’s specials. I know this sounds odd, but it actually works and it adds another layer of mystique and eccentricity to the story. It was a very quirky addition to the narrative which I really loved.
There isn’t a real climax or dramatic ending, but that’s alright because it wouldn’t really suit the book. You’re mainly following Joe’s life story and seeing him grow from a 2nd rate writer just bumming around aimlessly, into a passionate grown man with an actual purpose in life. I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think anyone who loved Chocolat will feel the same way. Just don’t expect it to be a similar kind of story, because it’s not. But it is typical Joanne Harris in the way that it appeals to our senses, mainly those of taste and smell, which makes her style of writing unique. A bit like Joe’s specials.