The Vintage and the Gleaning
by Jeremy Chambers
Text Publishing, $32.95 pb, 272 pp
Smithy is a retired shearer turned vineyard worker. His days are spent among the vines, where minutiae become conversational talking points and the lives of others are dissected with dogged patience. Smithy, a recovering alcoholic, still haunts the bars he used to call home, but no longer drinks in them. As a consequence, memories are resurfacing: a past up north, his wife Florrie, and days when his son still regarded him as his father. Charlotte also lives in the town. She shares a common bond with Smithy, following the events of a particular night. Fearing the emotion of that night and without alcohol to numb his fears, Smithy decides to seek redemption in the only way he knows.
There is much to like in Chambers’ début novel. His ear for dialogue is acute, and he neatly captures the monotony and repetition of conversations in the vineyard. His description of the landscape is similarly impressive, and the use of the vineyard as metaphor for life works well in the narrative context.
Structurally, the novel suffers from a lack of judicious editing. Much of Charlotte’s past is conveyed in two monologues, the second of which runs uninterrupted for fifty pages. While this fleshes out her back story, it also slows down the narrative just as the tension is rising. Charlotte’s importance to the novel could have been foreshadowed more effectively by placing her in the narrative at a much earlier point.
These criticisms aside, The Vintage and the Gleaning is a promising début. Chambers has a gift for finding rhythm in the written word. With more emphasis on structure, he will undoubtedly find a wider audience.