I ‘discovered’ Joanne Harris after seeing (and loving) the movie Chocolat (a favorite of mine with an incredible cast: Juliet Binoche, Carrie-Anne Moss, Alfred Molina, Dame Judie Dench and the ever-fabulous Johnny Depp). Of course I took note of the fact that it was based on a book and went looking for other books by Harris. I read Five Quarters of an Orange a few years later and was also impressed, so I added Harris to the list in my head. I was at Powell’s a few weeks ago with $40 in birthday money, and Blackberry Wine was on sale for $5, so it quickly went into the basket – I didn’t even read the back.
Blackberry Wine is the story of a writer who’s drinking his life away after his first book succeeds wildly and he can’t follow it up. It takes a ghost from the past (both literally and figuratively) to wake him up to his life. It’s about listening to your conscience and not judging people. It’s also a book about the pleasures of life in a rural setting, connected to the land and the people who live and work with it. And all of that without a moment of preachiness or insulin shock. The other two stories I’ve read featured strong female lead characters, and – while this main character is a man – the book has its share of confident females. Sounds perfect to me.
For those of you that don’t like stories that jump around in time, this book is not for you (and why on earth are you reading this blog?!). The changes are clearly marked and easy to follow (at least IMHO) but you see Jay as an adult then a child and back again many times but at no time is the story confusing or unclear. This is not to criticize, merely to comment on the style [there are otherwise intelligent people in my life (Sista) that hate the non-linear style]. Some of the characters in Chocolat appear as minor characters in this book, but you certainly do not need to have seen or read Chocolat to follow the story.
One of the things that impresses me about Harris’s writing is her ability to create atmosphere. She is a master of the ‘show, don’t tell’ theory of writing (which may be why the film of Chocolat works so well – film is all show. Of course, I should probably read the book before talking about how well the book works as a film, huh?). She conjures anger, revulsion, joy and promise without a sour note. You smell and taste her stories as much as you hear them (the three I’ve read/seen have food as an important element of the story – hence their titles). I like how she gives you the details of plants and gardening/farming (since I know nothing about these things) and doesn’t beat you over the head with her theme (not original, but still well-done) that we reap what we sow – call it karma or quantum physics if you like. And of course, one of my personal favorite ideals – we are all responsible for our choices, and every day we can chose something new if we want to change our lives. Simple – yes. Easy – of course not. All of this wrapped up in a package I didn’t want to put down. Lucky for me, I was stuck on a plane to Alaska and had three uninterrupted hours to enjoy it.