Lisa Walker - Between the Covers

The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce

Paul Torday

Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2008

This book embraces you like vintage claret at perfect room temperature. Wilberforce is a discerning alcoholic no cheap cask wine for him. Paul Tordays languid storytelling draws you into the mind of an obsessive and addictive personality.

Wilberforce has inherited a cellar full of the finest wines his irresistible inheritance and he is drinking his way through them. This is no amateur collection but a labyrinth of wine from which, it seems, a man may have trouble finding his way out.

Beautifully detailed descriptions of wines are a motif of the book. Even a wine ignoramus like myself can enjoy a description like this: I knew what to expect: flavours of truffles, spices and sweet fruit. Then those tastes receded and it was like entering another country, a place you have always heard of and longed to go but never visited.

Subtitled, A novel in four vintages the book starts with the youngest vintage 2006 and works its way back through four years in a slow reveal of events leading Wilberforce to his present state.

After a fateful meeting with fine-wine purveyor Francis Black, a workaholic Wilberforce discovers there are other things in life than 12 hours work a day. Unfortunately, one obsession is replaced by another.

Tordays observations of a character who is basically a loner ring true: The possibility that people could spend time together with no other object in mind than enjoyment of each others company was a new idea to me.

In the early part of the book scenes shift seamlessly from real to remembered to imagined as we are treated to an insight into a rambling mind in the grip of addiction. I found this part most compelling, which is not to say that the rest of the book disappointed. The voice changes, becoming more lucid as it travels back in time.

The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce is an ultimately sad but insightful reflection on life and how the optimism of youth can be sadly misplaced. Parallels are drawn between the ephemeral nature of wine and life itself. A lifetime of experience to create, ten years in the bottle to become ready to drink, and a few hours of drinkable life.

Like Wilberforces inheritance, this is an irresistible book. Somewhat like a good bottle of red, it left me melancholy, but satisfied.

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