People sometimes ask me to write about their books in this blog. I usually say no, because (a) the book sounds bad, or (b) the book sounds like it might be okay, but I can tell they are spamming every single English-language book blogger in the universe with their request, or (c) the people are so nice when they write their message, what if I don’t like their book and I have to write something bad? Then I would feel awful. Thus I hardly ever say yes to these requests.
But a few times I’ve been contacted by an editor in the
If my goal was to move outside my comfort zone, this book certainly forced me to do so. It was also a good lesson in the value of sticking with something that doesn’t immediately appeal. At first, I couldn’t think how I could like a book about a semi-autistic, self-deluding alcoholic, but turns out, I could! (Stay with me here.)
Wilberforce is a socially awkward computer genius who has recently sold his company for millions. He spends these millions acquiring an enormous, historic wine cellar, which he proceeds to drink up. The story unfolds backwards, with chapters about 2006 coming ahead of 2004, etc. Thus we know Wilberforce’s fate before we know his origins. When we first meet him he is in the advanced stages of alcoholism, nearing death. Why did he drink all this wine? Where did he get it? Why is he so miserable? Who was he before he got into this situation?
Finding the answers isn’t so easy. There are Wilberforce’s answers, then there are the true answers, which lurk beneath. Wilberforce is terrible at self-awareness, and a master of self-delusion, and sometimes he deludes us along with himself. Because the book is written in first person we only hear his version and must read between the lines. The author, Paul Torday, uses a naïve voice for Wilberforce; his observations are simplistic and often inaccurate, his dialog is clichéd. It was this voice that initially put me off and made me almost give up. But no, I was wrong. This is NOT a badly written book, it’s a WELL WRITTEN book by an author who is purposely writing stilted dialog. How weird that sounds, but how well it works! The process of discovering this brings great satisfaction; I hope I am not ruining it for you, but I couldn’t think of how else to say it.
Torday’s skill shows itself in his ability to strip away the layers bit by bit, and show us the truth, even when the narrator does not want the truth revealed, even to himself. This is a really good book by a really talented writer, but you will have to work a little bit in order to get it. Consider this blog post something of a head start.(Book 5, 2008)