Blackberry Wine

( 22 )

Overview

As a boy, writer Jay Mackintosh spent three golden summers in the ramshackle home of "Jackapple Joe" Cox. A lonely child, he found solace in Old Joe's simple wisdom and folk charms. The magic was lost, however, when Joe disappeared without warning one fall.

Years later, Jay's life is stalled with regret and ennui. His bestselling novel, Jackapple Joe, was published ten years earlier and he has written nothing since. Impulsively, he decides to leave his urban life in London and, ...

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Overview

As a boy, writer Jay Mackintosh spent three golden summers in the ramshackle home of "Jackapple Joe" Cox. A lonely child, he found solace in Old Joe's simple wisdom and folk charms. The magic was lost, however, when Joe disappeared without warning one fall.

Years later, Jay's life is stalled with regret and ennui. His bestselling novel, Jackapple Joe, was published ten years earlier and he has written nothing since. Impulsively, he decides to leave his urban life in London and, sight unseen, purchases a farmhouse in the remote French village of Lansquenet. There, in that strange and yet strangely familiar place, Jay hopes to re-create the magic of those golden childhood summers. And while the spirit of Joe is calling to him, it is actually a similarly haunted, reclusive woman who will ultimately help Jay find himself again.

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Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
Harris' best-selling novel Chocolat [was] a frothy cup of spicy chocolate [that] could liberate and transform lives . . . Blackberry Wine takes us to similar imaginative territory.
Seattle Times
[Harris'] voice is crisp and sure, touching the edges of things with cool light . . . as reliably darling as [ Chocolat] . . . a well-crafted escape into a world where lessons can be learned and evil [can] be given the slip.
BookPage.com
Blackberry Wine is a classic of a beach book . . . [a] poetic pastiche of magical realism and travelogue-by-surrogate . . . in Harris' hands the gentle tug of the past is like a tsunami.
Sunday Times
Lost summers — described vividly and nostalgiacally — form the heart of the novel . . Harris has a lively and original talent.
Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
The author of the critically acclaimed novel Chocolat, returns to the French countryside with a "whimsical" story of memory and new beginnings, spiced with everyday magic. "Meant to be sipped and savored." "Enchanting."
Charles DeLint
The language and the spell of Harris's characters are such that this, like Chocolat, is a novel one will return to again and again, as we do with those books that become our old and dear friends.
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Kirkus Reviews
Harris (Chocolat, 1999) returns with a charming fairy tale for grown-ups, including all those seductive elements of contemporary fantasies: a house in the French countryside, potions and healers with the power to transform, love that is always tender, if seldom convincing. Now in his 30s, Jay Mackintosh has failed to produce a successor to the acclaimed novel celebrating English village life that he wrote ten years ago. Jay puts bread on the table with science-fiction thrillers cranked out under a pseudonym, but otherwise he has a serious case of writer's block. Then one night Jay opens one of old Joe Cox's fruit wines and starts recalling the summers he spent working with Joe in his garden on Pog Hill in the former mining town of Kirby Monckton. Jay's lonely adolescent summers (his wealthy parents had separated) were transformed by meeting retired coal miner Joe, and these memories alternate with the sudden changes in his present life in London. The day after drinking the bottle of wine, Jay receives a brochure in the mail advertising a château for sale in the heart of the Dordogne. He thinks it's a sign from long-lost Joe, a healer, potion-maker, and fabulist who always talked of one day owning a château in France. Energized, Jay buys the château, leaves London and girlfriend Kerry, and becomes the lord of a crumbling but promising French estate. There, he meets a colorful range of rural characters who soon make him feel welcome, but he's most intrigued by his neighbor, the beautiful but elusive young widow Marise, and her supposedly deaf daughter, Rosa. As Jay begins writing a new novel, clearing the property, and planting as his mentor had taught him, adisembodiedJoe appears to counsel and criticize. Jay learns why the villagers shun Marise and, in a story that can only end well, finds the happiness he lost when Joe disappeared from Pog Hill 20 years ago. Sweet and lite.
From the Publisher
"Joanne Harris has the gift of conveying her delight in the sensuous pleasure of food, wine, scent and plants—Blackberry Wine has all the appeal of a velvety scented glass of vintage wine."—Daily Mail
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380815920
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/2001
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: 1ST PERENN
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 382,743
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Joanne Harris is the author of seven previous novels—Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, Five Quarters of the Orange, Coastliners, Holy Fools, Sleep, Pale Sister, and Gentlemen & Players; a short story collection, Jigs & Reels; and two cookbook/memoirs, My French Kitchen and The French Market. Half French and half British, she lives in England.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Wine talks; ask anyone. The oracle at the street corner; the uninvited guest at the wedding feast; the holy fool. It ventriloquizes. It has a million voices. It unleashes the tongue, teasing out secrets you never meant to tell, secrets you never even knew. It shouts, rants, whispers. It speaks of great plans, tragic loves and terrible betrayals. It screams with laughter. It chuckles softly to itself. It weeps in front of its own reflection. It revives summers long past and memories best forgotten. Every bottle a whiff of other times, other places, every one — from the commonest Liebfraumilch to the imperious Veuve Clicquot — a humble miracle. Everyday magic, Joe had called it. The transformation of base matter into the stuff of dreams. Layman's alchemy.

Take these six in Jay's cellar, for instance. The Specials. Not wines really meant for keeping, but he kept them all the same. For nostalgia's sake. For a special, yet-to-be-imagined occasion. Six bottles, each with its own small handwritten label and sealed with candle wax. Each had a cord of a different color knotted around its neck, raspberry red, elderflower green, blackberry blue, rose hip yellow, damson black. The last bottle was tied with a brown cord. Specials '75, said the label, the familiar writing faded to the color of old tea.

But inside was a hive of secrets. There was no escaping them: their whisperings, their catcalls, their laughter. Jay had hidden them behind a crate of more sober vintages the day he'd brought them back from Pog Hill Lane. Five weeks later he could almost persuade himself they were forgotten. Even so he sometimes imagined he heardthem, without really knowing what it was he heard.

Jay Mackintosh was thirty-seven. Unremarkable but for his eyes, which were Pinot Noir indigo, he had the awkward, slightly dazed look of a man who has lost his way. Five years ago Kerry had found this appealing. By now she had lost her taste for it. There was something deeply annoying about his passivity and the core of stubbornness beneath. She knew there were depths to Jay, but for some reason he remained sealed off to her, neatly deflecting any attempt at intimacy. Her only point of entry to that secret place was through his books. Through his book.

Fourteen years ago Jay had written a novel called Jackapple Joe. It won the Prix Goncourt in France, translated into twenty languages. Three crates of vintage Veuve Clicquot celebrated its publication — the '76, drunk too young to do it justice. Jay was like that then, rushing at life as if it might never run dry, as if what was bottled inside him would last forever in a celebration without end.

But then something happened. Perhaps it was the unexpected success of Jackapple Joe which paralyzed him. Perhaps the weight of expectation, of affection from a public hungry for more. Television interviews, newspaper articles, reviews succeeded each other into silence. Hollywood made a film adaptation with Corey Feldman, set in the American Midwest. Nine years passed. Jay wrote part of a manuscript entitled Stout Cortez and sold eight short stories to Playboy magazine, which were later reprinted as a collection by Penguin Books. The literary world waited for Jay Mackintosh's new novel, eagerly at first, then restless, curious, then finally, fatally, indifferent.

Of course he still wrote. There had been seven novels to date, with titles like The G-sus Gene and Psy-Wrens of Mars and A Date with d'Eath, all written under the pseudonym of Jonathan Winesap, nice earners which kept him in reasonable comfort. Every month the post brought him a sizable packet of fan mail, all addressed to Jonathan Winesap, mostly from America. Sometimes the letters contained blurry photographs of UFOs or accounts of out-of-body experiences or magical amulets or newspaper clippings dealing with unexplained phenomena. These he explored, debunked and filed away in the neat drawers of a large cabinet next to his desk. He was a great advocate of keeping fiction in its place. Sometimes he attended fantasy conventions and made impassioned speeches about what he called the Conspiracy of the Unexplained, in which he argued that the public's appetite for strange phenomena was being deliberately nurtured by the media to divert attention from a world crisis spinning ever more wildly out of control. He bought a Toshiba laptop which he balanced on his knees like the TV dinners he made for himself on the nights — increasingly frequent now — Kerry worked late. Occasionally he lectured at writers' groups, held creative-writing seminars at the university. More often he wasted hours surfing the Internet and drinking too much.

Kerry watched him with growing disapproval. Kerry O'Neill (born Katherine Marsden), twenty-five, cropped red hair and startling green eyes, a journalist made good into television by way of Forum!, a late-night talk show where popular authors and B-list celebrities discussed contemporary social problems against a background of avant-garde jazz. Five years ago she might have been more tolerant. But then, five years ago there was no Forum!, Kerry was writing a women's column for the Independent and she was working on a lighthearted book entitled Chocolate — A Feminist Outlook. The world was filled with possibilities.

Her book came out two years later on a wave of media interest. Kerry was photogenic, marketable and mainstream. As a result she appeared on a number of lightweight talk shows. She was photographed for Marie Claire, Tatler and Me! but was quick to reassure herself that it hadn't gone to her head. She had a house in Chelsea, a pied-á-terre in New York and was considering liposuction on her thighs. If she sometimes wondered what had happened to the impetuous girl who had read Jackapple Joe and fallen wildly in love with the author, she seldom spoke of it. She had grown up. Moved on...

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Reading Group Guide

Jay Mackintosh is uninspired. After penning his first and only successful novel, Jackapple Joe, he has faded into obscurity. His ambitious girlfriend tries mercilessly to goad him towards a new literary endeavor, but nothing seems to stir him. Then, one spring day, he finds himself thinking back to his summers with Joe, the crusty, magical old man who was the inspiration for his novel. Joe lived in a ramshackle house near an unused railroad line, where he cultivated a lush and almost jungle-like garden. At the time, Jay was a lonely, bored kid, and Joe adopted him and kept him spellbound with stories of his adventures, and the lore of the charms he used to help grow his flowers, vines and trees. This strong wave of nostalgia drives Jay into his cellar, where he dusts off six bottles of Specials -- Joe's potent homemade fruit wine. The wine, it seems, has a life of its own, and once Jay breaks the wax seal around the neck of one bottle, his life is changed. A sudden epiphany leads to a permanent change, and he impulsively decides to buy an old farm in France that reminds him of Joe's long ago home. Moving to the small town of Lansquenet in the French countryside, he begins to cultivate his garden and rebuild the run-down farm. Slowly he is welcomed by his colorful neighbors, including the secretive, strong-willed Marise, who lives on the farm next to his. When the sun goes down each night, he retires to a candelit room where he feverishly spins the lives of the villagers into a new novel. As the novel progresses, Joe begins to appear to him, gently coaxing Jay to embrace a life that feeds his soul, and to challenge the very foundation upon which he has builthis life. Discussion Questions
  • Compare Kerry and Jay's relationship to Marise and Tony's relationship. In what way are they similar? If they don't satisfy each other romantically, what other needs might the relationships fill?
  • "Wine talks; ask anyone.... It has a million voices. It unleashes the tongue.... It revives summers long past and memories best forgotten" (pg 1). Does this statement resonate for you? If so, how? How does it relate to the Specials? Are there other instances in the novel in which food or wine play an active role in guiding a character's actions?
  • What qualities made Joe so appealing to Jay? Jay felt betrayed; was his anger justified? What was Joe attempting to teach Jay about reality, about everyday life? Did Jay ever learn this lesson?
  • Discuss the presence-or lack thereof-of nature in Jay's life, and how it affects his state of mind. What-if anything-is the author saying about country living versus city living?
  • Why did Jay have to destroy his new manuscript before beginning a new life? Why was it important for Jay to finally plant Joe's "Specials" seeds? About the Author: Joanne Harris is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Blackberry Wine, Five Quarters of the Orange, and Chocolat, which was nominated for the Whitbread Award, one of Britain's most prestigious literary prizes. Half French and half British, Harris lives in England.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 22 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Little Taste!

    Joanne Harris is an excellent writer. Her use of words is beautiful and allows the reader to taste the story. However, I found this one slightly lacking in substance. I did not like the main character that much. I will still read her books but this will never be one of my favorites.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 13, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    One of my favorites!

    The first time I started to read this I couldn't get past the first few chapters, but I am glad I gave it another try. Joanne Harris is my favorite author! Her characters are complex, and you never quite know where the story will take you. It has been a couple of years since I read Blackberry Wine, but it ignited a fire in me to explore my garden, make something wonderful with the fruits of my labor, and to love every moment that I have with MY mentors!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2003

    Fantastic Read

    I really enjoyed the book....I absolutely loved reading about the 'specials.' It's a wonderful read!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2003

    Imagination

    Blackberry Wine is so deliciously off the wall and a great moral story. I loved it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2003

    Left me wanting more!!!!

    This is a great book. I finished it in two days. The characters are fresh and quirky. I found myself dreaming about the characters and geting up at 2am to finish. First book that I have read by Joanne, but already purchased the next one!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2014

    Disappointed

    I was very disappointed with this book. The characters were not likeable and the plot was unimaginative. I kept hoping the book would improve as I waded through it but, instead, it got worse. I was so disinterested in the characters and could easily predict the end that I just glanced through the last pages to the ending.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2013

    Good read

    F

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  • Posted March 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The Specials

    With each book by Joanne Harris, I am amazed by her excellent story telling. Blackberry Wine is nostalgic, melancholy, bittersweet, and, overall, delicious! I fell in love with the characters. Jay Mackintosh is the troubled artist who fascinates us all, and Joe Cox is the eccentric old man whom we all know and love. Reading the story more and more, I became more and more completely engrossed with it. Ms. Harris has mastered the art of placing emotions to words which correspond with our senses. My own mother has told me of when she re-visted her old house in Soeul, only to find luxury appartments in its place. When Jay went back to Pog Hill, I felt a pang of sadness in my heart and a connection with my mother's past. Buy it, read it, and fall in love with it!

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  • Posted March 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Nice story, but not one I will recommend to friends

    I was intrigued by the story-line of Blackberry Wine, but was a little disappointed that it took a long time before it actually held my interest. The first part of the book was not exciting or compelling. It isn't until Jay gets to France that the story becomes entertaining and I felt that I wanted to keep reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2002

    Not Vin Ordinaire

    Delicious slice of provincial French life. Harris knows her French countryside and the people living in it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2002

    Superb!

    This is by far the best book I've read. I highly recommend it. I could hardly put the book down!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2001

    Wonderful!!!! Excellent!!!!

    This work was very good! It was my first time reading Harris. I found 'Blackberry Wine' to be refreshing & thought provoking. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment reading this book. From the first page Harris had me captivated & I didn't want to put it down!

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    Posted October 20, 2009

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    Posted February 9, 2011

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    Posted October 24, 2010

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    Posted November 2, 2008

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    Posted May 7, 2010

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    Posted August 7, 2010

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    Posted January 6, 2010

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