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The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce: A Novel in Four Vintages (2008)

by Paul Torday

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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
abandoned after about 70 pages. I picked this up because I loved Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, but this is the story of an alcoholic, from the perspective of said alcoholic, who inherits a truly absurd quantity of high quality wine. Being a non-drinker, this didn't speak to me at all! And I found it deeply frustrating. That said, I suspect wine connoisseurs might find it quite funny. ( )
  readingwithtea | Jan 20, 2014 |
So very sad and true. Can a soul be truly destroyed? ( )
  Hana.Dooren.Richter | Sep 22, 2013 |
This is told in reverse, with episodes taking place in 2009, 2006, 2003 & 2002. The book hangs together by the repetition of phrases and descriptions from one episode to the next. in some instances you know what happens - having already heard what happens later. in other cases you discover more about an event that is glimpsed early in the book and described in more detail as the past events are relayed.

Wilberforce is a somewhat unsympathetic character in some ways. He was adopted and didn't have a particularly pleasant childhood before starting a software company and working every hour available for the next 15 years. He has a somewhat obsessive personality and it is this that, to some extent, drives his behaviour throughout the book. At each timepoint you feel that he has the chance to turn his life around and not take the path that you know he does. In some why this makes the book a bit depressing; when he's promising to do something, you know in advance that he won't carry it through.

the inheritance of the title isn't really an inheritance in the traditional sense, it's far more complicated than that. Don;t read on if you don;t want to know what happens

I wonder if there is not some double layer meaning in the title - Wilberforce becomes, by the end of the book, an alcoholic and drinks himself, we're almost sure, to an early grave. He is taken under the wing of a faded gentleman, Francis Black, who has gambled or drunk away his family's estate and has no heir. Black leaves his wine cellar, flat and estate house to Wilberforce - who has to pay off the mortgage on the property to the tune of £1million. As I said, not a traditional inheritance. The obsessive nature of Wilberforce's character moves from his business to a girl and thence to the wine he's now the owner of. He chooses between the girl and the wine when his wife dies in a car crash that he causes by being drunk. There is a final twist, in that we discover that Wilberforce and Black share a first name - and that in Black's past he got the love of his life (a maid at the estate house) pregnant and she gave up the child for adoption. We're left with the possibility that Wilberforce's inheritance is not just the wine but his obsessive nature - something that Black also displays.

That this book contains a somewhat unsympathetic character as its main protagonist, but still remains a book that was, overall, quite enjoyable demonstrates some writing skill. I listened to this on audiobook and the narration was very good. There was a lot of accent and pitch change present in conversations, so that they were easy to follow. There is an air of depression about the inevitability of knowing what will happen when each chapter ends on a hopeful note. the ending, is especially poignant in this regard. An object lesson to all who run to an obsessive nature... ( )
  Helenliz | Apr 1, 2013 |
An amusing, though also rather alarming investigation of addiction. Told in four sections, each set slightly earlier in time than the preceding one, this story catalogues the decline into rampant alcoholism of Wilberforce, former proprietor of a successful software company who acquires a detailed knowledge of fine wines and an extensive cellar from which to indulge himself.
The novel begins with Wilberforce arriving at a West End restaurant which, his research tells him, has a particularly fine wine on offer at a mere £3,000 for the bottle. My own experience of £3,000 bottles of wine is limited ... well, let's be honest, entirely non-existent, so I can't judge how accurately Torday portrays the experience of consuming such an opulent drink. However, it certainly convinced me and I almost felt I was drinking it too!
It is only as Wilberforce's behaviour becomes more erratic that we come to realise that he has already consumed three bottle of cheaper (though still expensive enough) wine earlier in the day. As we grow more familiar with Wilberforce we find ourselves dragged into the utter confusion that bedevils much of his current,tortured life.
The subsequent sections give us further insight into how he came to be in that situation. We also meet Hector "Eck" Chetwode Talbot who features more prominently in "The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers".
Very amusing, though also very sensitive. Torday manages his plot and characters very adeptly. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Aug 7, 2012 |
Another of my long term TBR books. I really enjoyed Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which is why I picked this up.

Wilberforce is a wine-lover, though that term doesn't really get close to how he really feels about the drink, he "inherited" a great wine cellar when he bought up a dying friend's collection. He is an alcoholic, drinking up to 4 bottles of wine a day, and not just any wine, but great vintages, from his cellars and restaurants. He justifies his drinking, claiming not to be an alcoholic as he only drinks great wine, not just any bottle.

The style of the book is unusual, with Wilberforce narrating his story, each part starts a year before the previous, so while you know how it will end, only slowly do you find why. In the first part, 2006, we see how this "inheritance" is destroying his life. The killing he made when selling his computer software company is dwindling as his obsession gets more acute. His personal relationships are also deteriorating rapidly as the wine takes more and more control over his life.

The story is told by Wilberforce, so while we get an insight into his thoughts, other characters only seem to warrant a superficial glance. This says a lot about Wilberforce's own character, a lonely man whose loneliness makes him even more intraspective. A computer programmer, he didn't have great people skills, but fell into a group which, for him, represented getting a life. Trying to fit in, he takes it too far, and starts alienating those around him.

This is a much darker novel than Salmon Fishing, more similar to The Girl on the Landing in its deconstruction of the human character, though the latter deals with latent mental illness rather than the induced, which we have here. Wilberforce's delusions are fascinating, though tragic, reading. I recently read a non-fiction book about wine, so connected better with the object of Wilberforce's obsession.

I would recommend the book, for the literary style and also a, sometimes painful and often sad, intimate portrayal of a man's self-destruction. ( )
  soffitta1 | Aug 13, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
This book will probably be described as a good summer read (especially for holidays in the south of France) but it is more than that, and I'm looking forward to hearing more from Paul Torday.
 
The narrative style has none of the light comedy of Salmon Fishing with its parodies of civil service memos, emails and press reports. Torday's confidence in his story's power to command attention, despite beginning at its end, is not misplaced.
added by geocroc | editThe Independent, Nicola Smyth (Feb 24, 2008)
 
I'll be impressed if Torday's second book is as big a bestseller as his first; it paints a much darker and more despairing view of life, filled with bitter asides about class and work.
added by geocroc | editThe Guardian, Josh Lacey (Feb 16, 2008)
 
...Torday's lightness of touch, in particular his ability to find humour in the darkest moments, without gratuitousness or cruelty, makes this an easier read than it should be.
 
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WIlberforce's eyes went up to the ceiling, so that he did not seem to know how his glass went up full to his mouth and came down empty.  WM Thackeray, Vanity Fair
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To Piers & Nicholas, Jonathan & Charles
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Ich war zu hastig aus dem Taxi ausgestiegen.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0753823152, Paperback)

Late one summer evening, Wilberforce - rich, young, and work-obsessed - makes a detour on his way home to the vast undercroft of Caerlyon Hall, and the domain of Francis Black, a place where wine, hospitality and affection flow freely. Through Francis, Wilberforce is initiated into a life rich in the promise of friendship and adventure, where, through his new set of friends, the possibility of finding acceptance, and even falling in love, seems finally to be within his reach. Wilberforce becomes a willing pupil to Francis, and in the cellars of Caerlyon he nurtures a new-found passion for wine. But even the finest wine can leave a bitter aftertaste, and Wilberforce will learn the undercroft's unpalatable secrets, and that passion comes at a price ...

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:05 -0400)

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Chronicling the vintage years of Wilberforce's life, this is a haunting story of obsession and addiction, of loyalty and betrayal.

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