Are you studying this book as part of a readers’ group? Here are a few extra resources and questions to help your discussion along. (Note: questions do contain spoilers, so please read the book first if you want to avoid them!)
Joe is passionate about maintaining the diversity of plant species. Read more about potatoes and the importance of biodiversity here.
Ever tried making blackberry wine? Here’s a recipe for you to try…
Or if you need a quicker hit, make Joe’s Blackberry Brownies, from my cookbook, The French Kitchen…
Questions for discussion:
- Jay Mackintosh is a successful author. Why does he feel the need to reinvent himself in the way he does? Why does he feel so disconnected from his life?
- Jay also feels disconnected from his creative-writing students. Why? What does he try to teach them about the emotional significance of writing?
- Joe is a powerful influence in Jay’s life. Why? What emotional need did he fulfil for Jay as he was growing up?
- Joe’s garden is his life. In what way would you say this novel is a story about the importance of nature in our increasingly urbanized lives?
- What role do the travellers play in this story, and why do you think the author chose to include them?
- Joe’s “Specials” acquire an almost magical significance. Why?
- Joe’s rituals (the perimeter sachets, the special plantings) are a kind of domestic magic. What do you understand by the phrase? Why are these rituals central to the way Joe lives his life?
- Jay’s impulse purchase of a chateau in France is directly due to Joe’s influence. Why?
- How does Jay manage to fit into French village community? How do the different villagers relate to him, and why?
- Marise is initially quite hostile to Jay. Why does she finally warm to him? What do you think she represents to Jay?
- The story itself is narrated by a bottle of wine. How does this narration allow the author to look at the perspectives of different characters? What does it add to the narrative?
- Joe’s wine has magical properties to Jay. Why? How does the wine affect his behaviour and his choices?
- Joe is a constant presence in the book, even though Jay hasn’t seen him for a long time. In what way is this a story about the power of memory and the past?
- Marise’s young daughter is deaf. Why do you think the author chose to write her this way? In what way does her deafness contribute to Marise’s reclusive behaviour?
- Jay chooses to abandon the possibility of hugely increased wealth and fame in favour of a simpler life. Why? What do you think would have happened if he had chosen differently?