Tuesday 11 October 2011

The Wine of Angels

I'm still finding that there are several blogs I can't comment on without having to be 'anonymous'. Is anyone else still having problems? because this has been going on for months and months now and is pretty irritating.

Anyway. Enough of minor annoyances. I've just finished my 6th. book for Carl's R.I.P VI... the best of the lot so far... and that is The Wine of Angels by Phil Rickman.

Ledwardine is a fictitious village in Herefordshire, an English county on the Welsh borders. It's had no vicar for a little while and Merrily Watkins is brought in as the 'priest in charge'. Right from the start there are traumatic events. An elderly man commits suicide in the large apple orchard that almost surrounds the village, during a kind of pagan night-time ceremony, witnessed by a large crowd. And, aside from that, things just don't feel right in the village. Lucy Devenish, a local shop owner and expert on folklore in the county, hints at all kinds of rum goings on and starts to involve Merrily's fifteen year old daughter, Jane.

One night, Jane goes out drinking with Colette, a local restaurant owner's daughter. Not realising the strength of the local cidar, Jane gets drunk and, pursued by local yobs, the two girls end up in that same apple orchard. Things become confused and Colette disappears. Being a bit of a trollope, people think she's just disappeared off with some lad, but has she?

It doesn't help that Merrily hates the vicarage. It's a huge place that doesn't feel at all welcoming and her and Jane find themselves rattling around in its large rooms and corridors. Not only that, Merrily is having waking nightmares and starts to wonder if the place is haunted.

More problems arise when a local playwright and his young boyfriend want to stage a play in the church. It's based on the story of a young seventeenth century priest of the parish who was accused of witchcraft and put to death. The boyfriend, an actor, feels the priest might have been gay and this was the reason he was hounded to death. The play is clearly controversial and the village is divided, some supporting, some violently against, led by the sort of squire figure, John Bull-Davies whose ancestor was involved with the trial.

From not being able to believe her luck at being transferred from inner Liverpool to the rural idyll of Ledwardine, Merrily now regrets her move. She not only finds herself between a rock and a hard place as regards the play... she also has no idea what's going on with her own daughter who clearly has a lot of secrets she does not want to share. If Merrily is to keep this job she has sort the mess out before someone else disappears in mysterious circumstances, or even dies...

Well, this was a bit of doorstop of a book (600 pages) which has kept me royally entertained for a week. My eldest daughter pressed it on me, saying that I must read it as it was excellent. And so it was!

I would describe it as a 'busy' novel. A lot going on in respect of plot lines - things going on in people's lives... much more than I've been able to describe here to be honest. And it's all very cleverly interwoven. Things affecting one person inter-connect with someone else so it's a bit like a jig-saw puzzle where all the pieces need putting togther to see the whole.

It's a while since I've been this involved in a book and I think that's down to the main character, Merrily, and her daughter, Jane. They seemed very real to me, especially the difficult relationship that can exist between mothers and their teenage daughters. How does a modern teenager feel, for instance, when her mother finds God and becomes a Church of England vicar? Jane is especially embarrassed to see her mother praying in front of the window and in one bit they sit to eat dinner and Jane says to herself over and over, 'Please don't say grace, please don't say grace...' It's thought provoking and very very honest.

There's also a very real sense of place. Herefordshire is a very pretty county and you can sense the history as you travel around. There are still many villages just like Ledwardine with their black and white timbered houses and apple orchards. In this story orchard is a character in itself, creepy, atmospheric, stifling almost, and the centre of much that is weird and strange.

If the book has a fault it's that some of the village characters are a trifle clichéd. There's an overbearing squire figure, a crazy 'folklore' expert who's an older woman, the playwright is gay because of course all artistic people are... and so on. It didn't worry me particularly because I do realise that clichéd characters are written because they are often like that in real life and to pretend otherwise is to deny the reality of things.

All in all, this is the best book I've read in ages, and I've read a few good ones recently. I'm delighted that it's book one of a series of eleven and can see that I'm going to get completely hooked on Merrily Watkins and her adventures in Herefordshire!


My Gallery of Worlds said...

Having 4 teenage daughters at the moment, I can attest to the...I'm trying to think of the right words...adjustments in attitude that can occur during those years...lol I'm sure it's refreshing to see a realistic view of that relationship ;)
Lovely review Cath

Anonymous said...

I have a copy of this book, having read a review somewhere that was very positive. Good to know that it worked for you too. I'll pick it up at some point soon. Lovely review.

DesLily said...

I have this same problem... i found the ones I couldn't leave a comment at did not have the separate box to comment in like yours does.. on some otherw without the separate box I sign in with wordpress or livejournal and it lets me leave a comment but it I try to sign in as a google account I can't do it.. nice huh,?, especially since google owns blogspot LOL... just had a notice on my blog that they "updated" so this is why there are big problems..again.

DesLily said...

...enough typo's for ya? heh.. need another cup of tea!

jenclair said...

I read another positive review of this one recently. This one puts the book on "the list."

Kailana said...

I didn't even know about the issues with commenting on blogger. Mine works correctly, right?

Cath said...

Kelly: The relationship between mother and daughter feels very real. I was lucky with my daughters as they didn't really do the confrontational thing to any great extent, but it does happen and it was depicted well here.

Kay: I really think you would like this one. It's not your average crime yarn!

Pat: Yep, it's definitely the blogs that don't have a separate comment box, the ones where the box is on the actual blog page. And it also seems to be the newer blog designs. Interesting that you can sign in with Wordpress and LJ...

jenclair: Definitely worth putting it on your list. I couldn't put it down and, even though I enjoy a lot of books, I can't always say that about them. I was up till 1.30 one night still reading...

Kailana: Yes, yours works fine thanks.

Jodie Robson said...

Cath, after reading your conversation with Pat, I have tried removing the embedded comment box on my blog. I hope you'll be able to sign in with your Google account in future - please tell me if it's still a problem (I tried it out and I think it's working...)

Very glad you took to Merrily and Jane - they continue to be great fun, very absorbing and sometimes, really scary!

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

What a great review, you obviously became totally absorbed in this book, your enthusiasm shows throughout the post.

I can't believe that I have never read this author, as a good crime thrillers is one of my favourite genres.

I checked out the full series of the 'Merrily Watkins' books and I really do intend to read them all, and amazingly for me, in order of publishing, as I don't already own any of them!

Nikki, over at 'Notes Of Life' recently posted about meeting Phil and purchasing a signed copy of his latest book in the series, although I don't think that she has read any of the earlier books.

He certainly has some great reviews, including your own. Thanks for sharing and for the recommendation.


Cath said...

GeraniumCat: I think all is well and I can now comment. The box gave me my Google id etc. I can't understand why it doesn't work the other way but there you go...

My daughter tells me that book two of Merrily Watkins is even better than the first book. She's going to pick it up for me next time she's in Exeter library and also keep the third book which she's now reading. She's hooked too.

Yvonne: I'm constantly amazed at the number of crime writers I've yet to discover. You think you've at least heard of most of them and then someone comes up with a new one. (*Kay* is the usual culprit. LOL.)

As long as you don't mind crime stories with a spooky bent I think you would like this series. I liked the human stories in the book as much as the crime element itself. It all came together to make a really good tale.

I'll see if I can find the post you mentioned by 'Nikki'.

Nan said...

I don't know when I last read such a long book! I am quite intrigued by your review. I'm reading a book with possible witch or wicca connections -The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian.

I was reading along in my latest George Gently mystery two nights ago, when I came across the term reed-warbler (with the dash) and the proverbial light bulb went off in my head! I never knew there was such a bird, and I've never known what your blog name meant. What's that line about us being separated by the same language? :<)

Cath said...

Nan: I don't usually read books that are 600 pages long either. 3 to 400 is more normal for me.

Yes, the reed warbler is a little bird in this country. It lives... of course... in reed beds. I thought the blog name combined my love of books and birds quite nicely. It's quite excusable that you didn't know as the US has very different birds to us in the UK.

Nan said...

Cath, I am just so THRILLED to know this! Oh, and I quit the Bohjalian book. I really, really can't take the scary stuff. :<)

Nikki - Notes of Life said...

I really need to get around to reading Phil's books as they sound great.

It was interesting to see Phil do a Q&A about his books before a signing last month and would definitely recommend seeing him if you ever get the chance.

Cath said...

Nikki-ann: my advice would be to get to them asap as they're *such* a good read. I've just read the first book but my daughter's now read three and tells me they get better and better.

I will certainly go to see him if he ever gets down to Devon.

Thanks for visiting!