“Wine talks…It has a million voices. It unleashes the tongue, teasing out secrets you never meant to tell, secrets you never even knew. It shouts, rants, whispers. It speaks of great things, splendid plans, tragic loves and terrible betrayals.”
So begins the book Blackberry Wine, by Joanne Harris (author of Chocolat). The book opens to the speaking voice of a bottle of wine – a 1962 Fleurie. This wine tells the story of a man named Jay – born the same year the wine was bottled. Pushed to the back of a cellar with two comrades – a Château-Chalon ’58, and a Sancerre ’71 – the trio stay happily away from the ‘metallic chatter’ of other bottles nearby, including a Dom Pérignon, a Mouton-Cadet, and a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka.
Then, six weeks before the story of this book begins, six other bottles arrive. “The strangers. The Specials…each with its own handwritten label and sealed in candle wax.” These wines were made not from grapes, but from other berries – including elderberry and blackberry. They are a lively crew who laugh and whisper. These bottles are inextricably related to the story of a man living upstairs: 37-year old Jay Mackintosh, author of a best-selling book titled Three Summers with Jackapple Joe.
The book soon splits into two parallel stories – one taking place beginning in 1975, when Jay was a youngster in rural England, and the other beginning in 1999, when Jay lived in London. The first story tells of Jay’s encounters with a charming semi-hobo named Joe (the protagonist of his later book), and the other tells of how Joe flees London and his girlfriend to live in a country house bought on impulse in France (primarily because the photo of the building reminded him of an image Joe once shared of his French dream house).
Modern day Jay comes to terms with loose ends from his childhood, while also embedding himself into colored and troubled rural interconnections east of Bordeaux.
Memorable scenes include young Jay protecting himself from bullies by clutching a magical bag of charms provided by Joe, and a surprise visit from his ex-London girlfriend – intent on bringing unwanted fame (and a television crew) to Joe’s new home village.
Characters in the book include liars, thieves, unlikely heroes, and an amiable ghost. The story concludes by the same bottle of 1962 Fleurie. For a vicarious plunge into railway, riverside, canal, and agricultural territory of rural England and France combined with a protagonist hunger to explore, Blackberry Wine is a decent read.