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!
The 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!