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4.0 out of 5 stars Care for a Drink?, 21 Aug. 2012
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This review is from: The Irresistible Inheritance Of Wilberforce (Paperback)
The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce - Paul Torday
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I'd heard a lot about the Richard and Judy Book Club's choice of Torday's Salmon Fishing in the Yeman , but I tend to shy away from novels with eccentric titles. They are probably 'comic' or 'trying to be funny' and will end up being merely tedious. The Irresistible Inheritance succeeds in being gloriously funny and extremely serious at the same time. The Inheritance in this case is a chateau with several thousand bottles of vintage wine, some fetching a price as high as 3,000 quid a bottle. Clearly there is no further necessity for the narrator, Wilberforce, to continue in his routine job. As an afficionado of the vine he can, and now does, devote his life to selecting, savouring and anticipating a lifetime of indulgence in the finest vintages that France or Italy has ever produced.

We first meet Wilberforce in 2006 as he arrives, somewhat flushed, at a first-class restaurant 'Les Tripes de Normandy' chosen because he has found on the internet that it is the only establishment that offers Chateau Petrus 1982 - a delectable vintage that his cellar lacks, and furthermore he finds that 'Les Tripes' has only two bottles left. (During the meal he consumes both bottles, almost without realising he has done so). He has already had some difficulty staying upright, but he is a man of confidence and some substance, a connoisseur of fine wine, fine food and the art of getting what he wants. Naturally the establishment seek out his credentials, which enquiry Wilberforce dismisses with a roll of fifty pound notes. During the meal he dreams of the past, hums tunes and without realising it disturbs guests with his humming and shouting. He is finally carried out - blotto. A hilarious opening chapter!

But alcohol addiction is ultimately not funny. As he loses friends, influence and fortune, Wilberforce becomes almost a tragic figure. He simply cannot put out of mind the next delicious glass, which he will sniff and savour, even though the stuff is slowly killing him. Colin, his long-suffering medical consultant puts it on the line for him:

Your liver produces thiamine, which is converted into a chemical called thiamine pyrophosphate. It 's a crucial component in nerve-impulse transmission. If you have Wernicke's encephalopathy, which we think you have in a well-developed form, your liver stops producing thiamine. You may develop some quite distressing symptoms.' He paused, but I said nothing. ''You will experience sensations of hypothermia. Your taste and sense of smell will be impaired. You'll start to lose control of eye-movement. These are the early stages, and well developed in your case.'

Like The Lost Week-end, Hangover Square and Under the Volcano , The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce is a horrifying portrait of a not uncommon disease, none the less horrifying for being at times extremely funny and delightfully engaging.
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