The conceit of Paul Torday’s Bordeaux is in its subtitle: not just “a novel” as is so au courant these days, but “A Novel in Four Vintages”. The “vintages” double as Chapter titles: 2006, 2004, 2003, 2002. And in that order. Which brings me to the other thing that’s unusual: the story is told backwards. We know the ending because it’s told first. Then we go back in time as the titles suggest. These are not flashbacks in any way. It’s just the way the story is told. If a linear story unfolds, what does this one do? Folds up? And in a way, that’s just what it does. But rather unsatisfactorily, it seems to me. Described variously as “haunting” and “dazzling”, I’d lean more toward boring and pedestrian. Thankfully it blasts right along, so it’s a quick read. I knew the end, but I found I did want to find how he got there.
So I’m not gonna worry about spoilers here, dig?
It’s 2006 and Wilberforce (that’s what he asks people to call him), is a wine collector, owner of one of the largest collections in the world, specializing in Bordeaux wines. He goes to a restaurant for the express purpose of ordering a bottle of a rare wine: a Chateau Petrus 1982. [i think i have one of those around here somewhere]. When he discovers that the restaurant has now only one bottle left, he orders that one as well. He gets drunk and passes out. When he wakes up at home, his doctor is there and advises him that he’s teetering on the brink of drinking himself ro death.
Back to 2004 (a better year), he meets, falls in love with, and marries Catherine. But beware, as LF says The Smiling Mortician: TNMWWTTW (The Night My Wife Went Through The Windscreen). That’s windshield, folks.
The vintage 2003 has him hobnobbing with his new (rich) friends. Wilberforce is rich as well, but in the nouveau way. Francis is the aging gentleman who has introduced Wilberforce to wine and his collection. Francis has gotten cancer and has but 6 months to live. Francis and Francis come to an arrangement. Oh, wait. Did I forget to tell you that Wilberforce’s mysterious first name is Francis? And that Wilberforce is an orphan? U-Freaking-Reka!
Francis dies and as arranged, Wilberforce, who has sold his successful software company, inherits the house and the wine.
As the wine infused my blood, as I tasted the first glass of the second bottle, I wondered what transubstantiation was taking place here. I was drinking the same wines on which Francis had lived; as I consumed them and they became part of me, would I become more like Francis? Would I become Francis?
The last vintage is 2002 and when FW is grouse hunting with his new hoity-toity buds, he hears one of them call him Mr. Nobody. Devastated at first, he quickly decides that, you know what?
Because I am nobody, I can choose to be whom I like. I can choose my life to be what I want it to be. I can become anybody; I can do anything.
Things are really looking up. The End.