The Vintner’s Luck, by Elizabeth Knox

Elizabeth Knox, on minimal research, is far more famous than I had supposed her to be – I’m finding there’s lots of these Big Fish in Small Ponds sort of writers whom I never hear about but once I read them it turns out every one has read them already, but is just, I don’t know, just very shy. We don’t want to talk about the Small Ponds, do we, they’re kinda, you know, small. And We hear they make big-ass movies in the small ponds – We don’t want to look uber-geeky or anything. We have enough trouble making sure people understand Our Fake Pointy Ears are Elven and not Vulcan.

The few people whom I buzzed who had heard of Knox usually talked about The Vinter’s Luck, and I picked it up myself because my local library is on a “Gay Abandon” kick, and places “Gay Abandon” stickers on books with homoerotic themes in an effort, I daresay, to remind us all that Gay Sex Is Fun!

The Vintner’s Luck spans the adult lifetime of one Sobran Jodeau, who in the year 1808 decides to drown his romantic sorrows in wine – his father, and therefore in time he, owns a vineyard – and instead falls into the arms of an angel. (In no way is the previous sentence a metaphor.) Sobran and the angel converse, and the angel makes a promise – not literally, but who doubts the word of an angel? – to meet Sobran again in a year. And in a year, Sobran is married, and waiting.

The novel takes us over fifty-five years of this relationship, which moves from the awed and distant to the loving, with different phases in between and after. I think it’s the product either of bad or clever structuring – the novel cannot stay hemmed into its early format of reporting one meeting a year, and must fill in Sobran’s life outside of those once-a-year trysts. You learn about his growing business, his growing family, his unstable wife, his business partnership (and friendship) with Lady Aurora, the local Big Murder Mystery – but the central focus remains on Xas (pronounced Sass, this being the name of our angel) and Sobran.

I’m unable to decide between the label of good and bad simply because this novel has so very much to cover – I would have liked some more focus on the “secondary” characters – Lady Aurora, unradical feminist; Celeste Jodeau, wife, madwoman, loyal betrayer; Baptiste Kalmann, friend and lover; Leon, brother, failure. The novel touches upon these people as extensions on Sobran’s life but not, (except partially in the case of the Atheist Businesswoman Noble Lady Aurora) completely as people in their own right. But the novel is about Sobran and his relationship with Xas. It is told primarily from Sobran’s point of view (third person limited narrator) and is, as the title suggests, more about Sobran and how Xas affects him than otherwise. And here, the year-by-year retelling of stolen and hidden moments, an open secret that lasts a lifetime and beyond, creates a powerful feeling of, well, true love, and how it can manifest and be forgiven and be false and true all at once.

I find the Xas character interesting – he is, after all, a higher Christian being, servant of God. Xas comes to Sobran with a dual mark: alone of all his kind he can go free, giving to God his pains and to Lucifer his pleasures. In a time when religious agitation against the Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is at full bray (and counter-shout, hooray!), Sobran’s and Xas’s opposed and unopposed views on their love, and the consummation of that love, can stand for, well, God’s permission for us to love as we will, or it could, more literally, be seen as a simple offering to Satan himself. The novel allows the former reading in the later parts, after scaring us silly with the first. But the final chapter is so utterly tragic in its conception of both heaven and hell that it throws almost every conclusion Sobran and Xas have led us to in doubt.

(As an aside: I would like to mark the first of my reviews of a book by a female author whose main characters are male, and in this case, homosexual. I note that at least one of the characters, in this case Xas, is bodily fetishised {I have had to rigourously remove every winged metaphor in this review, and there were many} and given a {and later another} Mark of Physical Non-Strength, without actually being rendered weak. This is an intriguing trend, one that I rarely find broken.)

The Vintner’s Luck opens with a man falling into the arms of an angel (it only now strikes me how beautifully the novel handles a parallel that unravels in the plot re: this falling) and ensures that that angel touches down again, and again, and again, for us to watch them, however voyeuristically, love, and grow, and suffer. And perhaps to close the book, and think on them for a while. A good read, overall, and one I recommend you try.

2 responses to “The Vintner’s Luck, by Elizabeth Knox

  1. I find it hard to choose between all these books you tell me such wonderful things about. Don’t you feel bad burdening me with such choices?

  2. No, Camilla, I don’t.😀

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