Friday, February 08, 2008

The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce by Paul Torday

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 U.K. who seems like she’s read my blog, and she’s offered me things to read that she thought I might like. Because I’m working through her, I don’t have to talk to the author directly, and thus don’t have to face possibility (c) (see above). And possibilities (a) and (b) also don’t apply. Which explains how I came to read The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce, which is just being released in the U.K. this week. (U.S. release information remains unknown.)

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)


heather (errantdreams) said...

Wow. That kind of writing takes incredible skill to pull off, let alone pull off well enough to make for good reading. I'm always blown away when I see it done well.

I sometimes have trouble taking review books for the same reason. I'm too blunt and honest NOT to say if I don't like a book (and why), but I really do not enjoy (at all) knowing that, naturally, my words are going to be painful for an author. I've been in the position of reviewed author before; I know what it feels like. That's one of the reasons why I have a posted policy of almost never taking self-published books. If one looks particularly good I might make an exception (there are good self-published books out there after all), but I don't like that there's no pre-screening, and all too often the authors aren't accustomed to harsh reviews and don't handle them well.

Okay, I got a bit off track from the subject of this book, which sounds quite fascinating. I'll add it to my wish list naturally, although of course at the rate that monstrosity is expanding, I don't ever expect to get to most of the books on it. :(

Anonymous said...

As you highlighted this book requires the reader to meet the author halfway . It is a bleak, frustrating and intriguing read which I enjoyed hugely - I can't wait to see what Paul Torday hits us with next.

Some people I know who have read the book have said they thought Wilberforce's age did not seem a good fit for his character, that he should have been older. I think people are all too quick to generate the image of the older red faced wine snob you'd associate with gentlemen in the upper echelons of society.
But I guess until you've had any real first hand experience of alchoholics then you aren't going to be aware that what happens to Wilberforce can happen to anyone at any time in their life. Sadly I have a close friend whose story isn't too far from Wilberforce's.

So maybe that's why I fell hook, line and sinker for this book...who knows...but I certainly urge anyone who usually prefers to snack on blockbusters to give this a whirl - you won't be disappointed.

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