on 24 June 2008
Now here's a good example of why it's not a good idea to judge a book by its cover. Its design echoes that of Torday's wonderfully funny and original debut Salmon Fishing In The Yemen; so much so that, had you not read the reviews, you could be forgiven for buying The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce assuming that you had your hands on another hilarious and rather touching novel. Well, this isn't very touching and it's certainly not funny.
In fact, it's a relatively dark read about the nature and destructive impact of loneliness. It's also, in rather a big way, about an almost sexual obsession with wine. The two themes are knitted together around a plot which is deftly turned inside out and re-ordered.
Torday is quite some writer: stylish and terribly readable. He has produced two such startlingly different novels that you wonder what's coming next.
The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce is the second novel by British author, Paul Torday. When Torday introduces his narrator, Wilberforce, it is 2006 and he is an enthusiastic wine drinker who owns an estate called Caerlyon Hall, the subterranean undercroft full of wine located under the Hall, and a flat in Half Moon Street, Mayfair. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Wilberforce is a virtually penniless alcoholic, a delusional widower who has alienated all his friends, squandered a fortune and is at death's door. How Wilberforce has managed to progress to this state from being a teetotal computer nerd who owned a multi-million pound software company is gradually revealed, but in reverse, in four parts: 2006, 2004, 2003 and 2002. Torday emphasises significant incidents (and his narrator's perception of them) with repetition of certain phrases and the retelling (with subtle differences) of certain events in each of the four parts. While it may be a dark and tragic tale, Torday manages to inject plenty of humour, and readers may well find themselves laughing out loud, at least in 2006. Torday's characters are well developed and often familiar: the socially inept computer programmer; the hedonistic heir to the title; the well-meaning doctor; the asset-rich, cash-poor gentry; the diplomatically fawning bank manager. Eck Chetwode-Talbot's name may ring a bell for readers of Salmon Fishing and both Eck and Ed Simmonds reappear in later Torday books, something that will appeal to fans. Although the outcome is evident from the beginning, it is a measure of Torday's literary talent that the reader is still eager to discover the who, how and why of it. At the same time, the reader is left a mystery to speculate upon (is Wilberforce's father among the characters?) Torday's portrayal of an alcoholic's behaviour and addictive personality (the denials, the rationalisations, the blame shifting, the physical and mental symptoms) is excellent and obviously well-researched. This is a brilliant offering by Torday and fans will be eager to read his next book, The Girl On The Landing.
In 2006, Wilberforce is an alcoholic close to killing himself through his prolific wine consumption of four or five bottles a day. Regularly barred from the high-end restaurants he visits in search of the most exclusive and expensive vintages, Wilberforce does not appreciate that he is addicted; he views himself as a wine connoisseur, even when he wakes up in hospital from an alcohol-induced coma. From this engaging beginning, Paul Torday takes the reader back to three previous years of Wilberforce's life, in which we see the journey that transformed him from a young, successful businessman to a walking disaster area.
There are some darkly humorous moments in the novel, but for the most part, this is downbeat stuff. Whilst it is highly readable, a few things in the book don't quite convince; for example, the voice of Wilberforce as a man in his mid- to late thirties - even allowing for his decline and world-weariness, it's difficult to believe in the age Torday has given him. The fact that Wilberforce has a mystery family background and parentage, and that his first name is kept secret for much of the book, are curious asides that do little to add any sense of suspense or intrigue to what is essentially a tale of a messed-up life.
There are other problems. We don't get to know the Catherine character at all (although perhaps this is deliberate; she does not seem to have left an impression on Wilberforce as a truly real person, either). In addition, the book's opening chapters, in which Wilberforce gets inebriated on £3,000-a-bottle Pétrus before being forcibly ejected from his latest choice of eatery, and tries to find a way to obtain wine despite the attentions of a nurse hired in an effort to prevent him doing any more damage to himself, are significantly more entertaining than the couple of hundred pages that follow.
However, I thoroughly enjoyed this. The hints we are given of Wilberforce's mistakes and misapprehensions (and not just regarding his alcoholism) mean that there is a somewhat twisted pleasure to be had out of knowing more than the protagonist does. It is true that there is little plot to speak of, and that in telling the story backwards, Torday loses the book's early riotous momentum, as we spend time with a Wilberforce who is ever more sensible and considered in his behaviour. This was nonetheless, a fun read for me and on that basis it gets four stars, though I could probably pick some more holes in it if I wanted to.
It is Torday's characterisation of Ed Simmonds, a.k.a. Ed Hartlepool (Hartlepool being the title he will inherit) that is Torday's most believable creation in this novel. We don't see much of him, but Ed feels real; he lives and breathes a casually easy existence, something that eludes Wilberforce to the end - or rather, has eluded him from the beginning.
on 18 February 2008
A tragedy, told backwards. One reviewer compained that since we know how Wilberforce ends up from the start, it loses dramatic tension: no it doesn't. The tension comes from not how he ends up, but how he got there. Really excellent read.
on 9 July 2012
I picked this book up even though I hadn't completely loved Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (which I found interesting but wasn't in a rush to finish it). I read the first few pages of The Irresistible Inheritance and then couldn't put it down.
As another reviewer says: it is a tragedy played backwards. Even though you know how Wilberforce's story ends you don't know quite how he got there until all the pieces fall into place as the book progresses. I think this structure worked very well.
This isn't a perfect novel, there are a lot of unlikeable characters - including our anti-hero However the character and his situation stayed with me for days afterwards.
on 28 April 2012
I bought this book because having read Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and thoroughly enjoyed it. This book although a good read and you do want to get to the end to find out what happens to Wilberforce although from page one you do know what is going to happen to him.
I found it a strange book. Wiberforce was an unlikeable 'hero' but then again you feel he was on a hiding to nothing in regards to his upbringing.
His so called friends were pretty much as you would expect of the idle rich. Andy& Dr Colin come out of the book best.
All in all it was not as good or funny as Salmon Fishing but it is a decent read.
on 13 August 2011
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.
on 12 June 2013
The Irresistible Inheritance Of Wilberforce by Paul Torday was a book I picked up in a charity shop thinking it looked an intriguing read. Wilberforce is a man who has become an alcoholic, drinking up to 4 or 5 bottles of wine, but unlike many alcoholics he focuses only on top quality vintage wines - many of which he "inherited".
I found it to be a real poignant literary piece - it was clever how Paul Torday starts the story with the conclusion - the year of 2006 - with each section of the book sharing the previous year, so as the book goes on the reader discovers the reasons for his alcoholism and his intricate personal relationships.
This isn't a happy narrative - it is a book that narrates the story of a lonely and depressed man who in trying to please other people and in this ends up an alcoholic and thereby further alienating those around him. Whilst it isn't a happy book, I did enjoy the book, and found the writing captivating - especially the early chapters where I was still trying to place Wilberforce and the other characters in the story.
on 9 May 2011
A beautifully constructing book of exquisite prose; pared down sentences that say it all.
The opening chapters have the taste-buds salivating for fine wine and the mind curious to find out the why?
All of Torday's books are so much more than a narration of events; more of a peeling back of the layers revealing more of the why as the what happens is revealed.
I believe he started writing around 60; which gives hope to us all though few, if any, could match his peerless writing.
A gorgeous book .... which led me on the Salmon Farming which was equally as good and the characterisations of Messrs Blair and Campbell are so spot on!! (Did they REALLY once turn up for an envelope opening, believing CNN were covering?)
Reminded me of Tom Sharpe at his absolute finest...
And Mrs P - I echo your "tour de force" comment on the Wilberforce book; a book that reveals in the reverse telling so much about the flaws in Wilberforce; a book that forces us to turn the microscope inwards on ourselves and ask those searching questions .....
on 29 June 2011
This story is told backwards, but it kind of works. At first I was a little bored by the endless descriptions of wine, but you grow used to it as it becomes central to the story and the character of Wilberforce. I enjoyed the story, despite it being quite sad and depressing at times. Without giving anything away, you just couldn't help feeling that Wilberforce could have had so much more from his life with all that he had. A sad waste of a man, but a unique character, and for that I enjoyed the story. I did feel, however, that Torday was writing about an elderly man the whole time, but he wasn't. I enjoyed the unfolding of Wilberforce's life throughout the book, going backwards in time to fill in the gaps of his life story. I did feel, however, the one thing about this book that disappointed me was its ending - it just seemed to fizzle out, but then perhaps that was Torday's intention...