Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox -- Guest Post with Aarti

I just love it when I can talk about books and reading. That's why it's been such a pleasure to get to know Aarti. She has amazing taste in books, and every time I stop over her site my wish list expands to alarming proportions. We have found a few books that our libraries have in common and have decided to tackle them as joint reads. This is our second read together, and I can honestly say that reading alongside such an intelligent and well-rounded person as Aarti really lets me take reading to the next level. It's like uber-reading. She always has a distinct grip on plot, character and dialogue, and is always able to provide several interpretations of scenes that I sometimes only see spot on. It is with great pleasure that I present her review of The Vintner's Luck today. She really had a wonderful grasp of the story and its implications, and as you will soon see, her reviews are detailed, erudite and just wonderful to read. Hop on over to Booklust as well, to see what other books she is reading! Without further ado, let me welcome Aarti, and her thought provoking review!




Book CoverThe Vintner's Luck, by Elizabeth Knox, meanders over 55 years of life making wine in 19th century France. At the start of the book, Sobran is a rough young man who wants to marry his fickle sweetheart. He gets drunk on his way home one day and stumbles upon an angel, Xas. The two get to talking and decide to meet again the next year- and then every year going forward, on the same date. They don't always meet- Sobran goes to war with Napoleon a few years after they meet, and then later on, he and Xas get into a big fight. But somehow, they always come back together and slowly find out more about each other.
Sobran becomes less rough and more prosperous, achieving an upper-middle class status as a successful vintner. He becomes friends with the local landowner's niece. He has many, many children with the sweetheart who becomes his wife, Celeste. He, in turn, learns about Xas's life, asks him questions about God and Lucifer, Heaven and Hell. The two become close friends, but as their friendship grows, Xas takes more and more dangerous risks.

As Sobran ages, Xas remains immortally youthful and perfect. But still, he has a great deal of wisdom and love to share with Sobran, the man who has become his closest confidante. This unusual and beautiful love story is different than I expected, in some ways disappointing me and in some ways becoming more than I ever hoped.

Interestingly, I didn't even realize that some things about this book disappointed me until I discussed it with Heather! Like Heather, I noticed that Knox's writing style was similar to that of other New Zealand authors I've read, such as Keri Hulme and Patricia Grace. She requires a lot of concentration and a great ability to read between the lines (which, unfortunately, I am not very good at). But this effort is rewarded, as the reader becomes fully immersed in the novel and the main characters.

The secondary characters, though, I never felt invested in. Isn't it strange how sometimes secondary characters can make you fall in love with a book? And sometimes, they are such gray matter you barely notice them? For me, most of Sobran's very large family was all a blur, without distinct personalities. In fact, even some aspects of Sobran's personality were a blur to me. We seemed often to only get snapshots of his life- we'd know his thoughts and his actions, but we didn't always know what drove him to think or act as he did. This really made me struggle to understand him, and I fully gave up on really understanding his family or any of the side plots. In fact, there is an entire murder mystery that I didn't even mention in my plot summary because I admit that I didn't pay it much attention.

My reading of this book was dominated utterly and completely by Xas, and to a lesser extent by Aurora, the landlord's daughter. Xas is a fascinating creature. The descriptions of his wings, of his body, of the way he uses his body to fly or sit or move... they are magnificent. His life story, too, is heart-breaking to hear. Sharing any of it would probably constitute a spoiler, so I will just say that he is a wonderful character who went through a great deal for his beliefs, and it is impossible not to feel for him. He made this story for me- Sobran was there, and central, but for me, it was all about Xas.

Aurora, too, is a strong and generous woman. She has so much wit and class, and I think she was a great role model for any girl who knew her.

In some ways, though, this story is about so much more than the central characters. It tackles many more huge, fundamental questions of religion than I was expecting going into it. At the end, I was left wondering what the author's message really was. Does she believe in a benevolent God or in a manipulative one? Is Lucifer really evil, or just misunderstood? I don't know myself, and I don't think I know enough about faith and religion to grapple with the questions that she raises. It was great to discuss these scenes and questions with Heather, and I'm very glad I had someone to talk to about this book. There were many scenes that we interpreted differently, possibly based on our religious backgrounds, and it was fascinating to see each other's perspectives.

Overall, I really enjoyed this read, even though I'm not entirely sure I understood it. It was wonderful reading and discussing it with a friend, especially one with whom I comfortable voicing my opinion on some very sensitive issues. I highly recommend it!



Now, head on over to Booklust for the second half of our joint review and check out my review of The Vintner's Luck!

14 comments:

Amy said...

How interesting. I notice that you both have similar thoughts as to the drawbacks of the book. It still sounds interesting though, so it will remain on my wish list :) Great way to do the buddy review too, btw.

Jenny said...

I know what y'all mean about the secondary characters. I agree, I found the central three to be very vivid characters (though it took a while for me to warm up to Aurora), and then the others felt like set dressing.

Anonymous said...

There is a sequel to The Vintner's Luck called The Angel's Cut and published by Vintage in the UK. The religious ideas are beautifully developed in that book. I think there will be a trilogy. I sure hope so.

bermudaonion said...

Aarti has a great blog! The book sounds good, but I wonder if I would understand it since she's not sure she did.

Sandy Nawrot said...

You two make such a good team! My little ears perked up when I read "vintner", as I happen to think of wine as God's juice! I was a little deflated to near that some of the character development just wasn't there, but now am intrigued to hear about the second book where some of the abiguities are fleshed out. OK, you two. You need to read and review that one!

Joanna said...

It's some time since I read this but I do remember being fascinated by it though I'm not sure I understood it all. It was still immensely satisfying.

Buried In Print said...

I've had this one on my TBR list for ages: good to know there's lots to discuss about it!

Trapunto said...

Nice to read these two reviews together.

Oh gosh, Aurora! The surgery! I can't believe I'd forgotten.

Suko said...

This is a thought-provoking review! It sounds as if you both enjoyed this book. I've heard of this book before but did not realize that it's part of a series.

Lenore said...

Aarti does have great taste!

Marie said...

I like the buddy review- what a nice way to review a book, to get both your perspectives at once. The book sounds interesting if a little dense. Thanks for the great, creative review(s)! :-)

Nymeth said...

Like I said when I commented on Zibilee's review, I actually didn't know the book dealt with so many religious issues. But that definitely makes it sound interesting.

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Tortured Artist Reuben said...

Empty characters would also be one of my biggest criticisms of the book. The trouble is that the characters of Sobran and Xas who ARE developed never really are forced to confront the tragedies and conflicts they experience; things just happen to them, and in the most powerful moments all Xas does is disappear, only to return with seemingly nothing to resolve. Its a frustrating novel to read. I feel it could have been a great deal more.

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