by Joanne Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Blackberry Wine / 0-552-99800-1
Harris is a magnificent writer, and "Chocolat" is one of my favorite books. I was unaware that "Blackberry Wine" was a sequel of sorts to "Chocolat", but a sad and pained sequel it is, as Harris cautions that the magic of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes can be ruined by those who do not respect and value it.
"Blackberry Wine" is superbly written and I can honestly say that it is the first novel I've ever read in which the primary narrator is a bottle of wine. This delightful conceit is truly novel, as the wine bottle follows the life and struggles of the young man whose birth year is the same as her own, and they age together as she waits for the right moment for her tale to be done. The young man in question is a perpetually youthful one-shot author who made waves with his one literary wonder before immediately sliding into the obscurity of science fiction novels and college lecturing. When, on a whim, he opens one of the five fruit wines in the cellar, fruit wines laid down by his childhood friend and mentor, the result is a flood of memories and desires for escape and he flees London to a derelict house in the French countryside, desperate to escape to a simpler world.
Any French countryside town would have done, but Harris chooses almost brutally, to revisit the Lansquenet-sous-Tannes of "Chocolat". I imagine that many readers might expect to be pleased to revisit this lovely town, but the reality is pained by the realization that Vianne has left and the magic she had brought seems to have gone with her, at least in part. Reynaud has not returned, and the townsfolk are no longer as hostile to outsiders as they once were, but we soon learn that in many ways they can be just as hostile to insiders, as they gossip and shun the local outcast - a lone widow with a young, wild daughter. Josephine is here still, bright and shining, as is Roux, but they are not together, and both seem terribly lonely in wake of Vianne's absence. And as the scheming Clairmonts and their friends plot and plan to put Lansquenet-sous-Tannes "on the map" as a gaudy tourist trap, and as the farms fail and crops turn less profitable each year, we realize that soon the magic of the small village will be lost - if not in this book, then later - and the efforts of "Blackberry Wine" to stave off the inevitable do not put the mind at ease. The sorrow for what is being lost is overwhelming, and while I think that is, in some ways, the entire point of the novel, it doesn't make it any less painful and poignant.
If "Chocolat" gave us magic and dreams and warmth, then "Blackberry Wine" reminds us that it is our responsibility to cultivate that magic, to create it out of our own efforts, and not to simply use and trash and destroy like the tourists who would ruin Lansquenet-sous-Tannes.
~ Ana Mardoll
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