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An unconventional novel which engages grand and glorious themes on an intimate, human scale. Longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction.
Elizabeth Knox is the author of five books, including the international success Black Oxen, but The Vintner's Luck was the first to be published outside her native New Zealand. It met great critical and popular success, was longlisted for the Orange Prize and turned into a film in 2009. She is married and lives with her family in Wellington.
This imaginative story of the lifelong love between a man and an angel is the first of Knox's five books to appear outside her native New Zealand. In Burgundy one midsummer night in 1808, Sobran Jodeau, then 18, climbs to the ridge of his father's lands with two freshly bottled wines to lament his love troubles. Stumbling drunkenly, he is caught by the angel Xas, who smells of snow and describes himself "of the lowest of the nine orders. Unmentioned in Scripture and Apocrypha." They share the bottles, and Xas promises that this night next year he will toast Sobran's marriage‘leading Sobran to believe Xas is his protector and guide. Sobran marries the woman whose family strain of insanity his father fears, marches with the Grand Army to Moscow, inherits his father's vineyards and begins to prosper under his angelic "luck." However, Xas proves far different from a guardian angel, and as years pass (the meetings on midsummer eve continue, with some exceptions, to 1863) their attachment shifts, severs then mends, as Xas's complicated relationship with God and Lucifer gradually unfolds. Each year's meeting constitutes one chapter, titled with the name of a wine, from 1808, Vin Bourro (new wine), to 1863, Vinifie (to turn into wine). This by-annum structure makes possible a number of intriguing plot turns but prohibits a smooth narrative flow. Most intriguing are the glimpses we get of Hell, which Xas reveals is entered through a salt dome in Turkey, and Heaven, accessible through the lake of an Antarctic volcano. In Hell there is one copy of everything ever written, but in Heaven angels are the only copies God tolerates‘copies of man, who is in turn the copy of a woman. And Heaven, we learn in a clever epilogue dated 1997, looks like the Titanic. While this conception of an alternate universe is the novel's significant achievement, Knox's failure to convey a fully realized narrative voice (except in the portions where the characters write letters to each other) may leave the reader feeling impressed but not totally enthusiastic. (Dec.)
"This is a gorgeous novel: as fine, rich, satiny and unpredictable as the vintages that it describes" * The Times * "Ms Knox's philosophical scheme defies brief summary: like a witty, post-modern Milton, she rewrites the Christian myth and the whole cosmology of "Paradise Lost"" * Economist * "A beautifully written exploration of the inexplicable, into which is woven an all-too-human chronicle of burning desire, violence, murderousness, bitter jealousy, curiosity, sexual deviations, shame and a fidelity of a sort" * The Times * "Knox comprehends the irredeemable sadness of loss and, more than any writer I have read for years, manages to touch the heart by paring sophistry and digression from the essential cores of her characters. Beautifully written, The Vintner's Luck possesses a complex bouquet of conceits and ideas but it is the simplicity of Elizabeth Knox's writing that in the end draws out the savour of human experience and compassion" * Independent on Sunday * "Angelic writing and inspired structure" * Guardian *