Review Blog

Aug 20 2010

The Vintage and the gleaning by Jeremy Chambers

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Text, 2010, ISBN 9781921656507.
(Age: Senior Students - Adult readers). Highly recommended. Set in a small country town in a wine-growing district, the novel is about regret, about looking for kindness and a longing for beauty, values not easy to express in the rough and hard world of the labourer. The main character, Smithy, regrets the decades spent drinking and his neglect of his wife. Now forced to stop drinking, though he is still respected as a gun shearer and for his work on the vines he is aware that his strength is fading, and that he is mocked for signs of age. As he works or watches others drink in the pub he reflects on his life, his childhood with the nuns in an orphanage, his marriage with Florrie, his son, Spit. He notices light, birds, a dog snuffling, interactions between others with the intensity of newly awakened awareness. He offers a muted kindness and protection to a young woman whose husband has bashed her, partly to help her, partly to redeem himself. In a long monologue she shows him that the pattern of her life has been set, just as his was many years ago. As a gleaner finds a few fallen grains after the harvest, so when she leaves his mind turns back to a fleeting experience he had as a child with a beautiful woman, and the possibility of a life lived quite differently from his own.
The language is simple and restrained but intensely evocative of place and person. The dialogue is accurate and believable, capturing the characters of the boss, the vineyard workers and the women of the town. The writer creates a palpable tension when Charlotte's husband returns, and the tight-lipped disapproval felt by other townspeople when Smithy intervenes. The voices of both Smithy and the self-obsessed young woman are authentic and powerfully different. The novel is both believable and memorable, and is recommended.
Jenny Hamilton

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