There are alcoholics: the double-fisting, beer bong guzzling, bottoms-up chugging frat boys who value quantity over quality; the clubbers who spend tons of cash on low quality but well-marketed liquors while dancing to this new-fangled thing called “Electronic Drug Music” (EDM) or something like that. On the other hand, there are connoisseurs: those with well-trained, discriminating palates who actually appreciate how their libation of choice affects each of their senses. Paul Torday’s dark novel, The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce shows how these two personas can exist in the same person.
The man behind the more popular Salmon Fishing in the Yemen tells the story of how the introverted Wilberforce, a workaholic computer engineer was fortuitously introduced to the pleasures of good wine under the tutelage of an expert, Francis Black. Wilberforce meets the love of his life through his dalliances with wine and his exposure to the oenocentric social circles. Eventually he is devised Francis’ massive estate, including a vast cellar of rare and expensive wines when the latter dies. The reader sees the growth of Wilberforce from awkward wallflower to a learned wine critic, and eventually, a wine expert in his own right.
That is where the story begins, chronologically at least. The novel takes the reader backwards through time over several years instead of moving forward with every chapter. A lot of questions about the self-destruction and mania of Wilberforce which are initially presented will be answered through these flashbacks. It’s not the most traditional way of presenting a story, but I think that it works in this case because of what I believe the goal of the novel is — to show how even the most innocent and well-intentioned passions can drive someone away from the people he loves and ultimately ruin him.
While I believe that this style works in forwarding the message of the book, it ends up being ridiculously depressing. While there are lessons to be learned here, make no mistake, this isn’t a black comedy like Torday’s other novels are supposed to be. This is a straight up tragedy, but without the catharsis at the end of the book, because the chronological end is at the beginning. It is still an interesting read for anyone interested in the appreciation of wine and other beverages. I still enjoyed reading it, aside from that gnawing emptiness I got from finally finishing this novel. Call me a sucker for happy endings, but this is heavy stuff that definitely doesn’t fall under the category of “summer beach books”.