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Publishers Weekly Review
This imaginative story of the lifelong love between a man and an angel is the first of Knox's five books to appear outside her native New Zealand. In Burgundy one midsummer night in 1808, Sobran Jodeau, then 18, climbs to the ridge of his father's lands with two freshly bottled wines to lament his love troubles. Stumbling drunkenly, he is caught by the angel Xas, who smells of snow and describes himself "of the lowest of the nine orders. Unmentioned in Scripture and Apocrypha." They share the bottles, and Xas promises that this night next year he will toast Sobran's marriageleading Sobran to believe Xas is his protector and guide. Sobran marries the woman whose family strain of insanity his father fears, marches with the Grand Army to Moscow, inherits his father's vineyards and begins to prosper under his angelic "luck." However, Xas proves far different from a guardian angel, and as years pass (the meetings on midsummer eve continue, with some exceptions, to 1863) their attachment shifts, severs then mends, as Xas's complicated relationship with God and Lucifer gradually unfolds. Each year's meeting constitutes one chapter, titled with the name of a wine, from 1808, Vin Bourro (new wine), to 1863, Vinifie (to turn into wine). This by-annum structure makes possible a number of intriguing plot turns but prohibits a smooth narrative flow. Most intriguing are the glimpses we get of Hell, which Xas reveals is entered through a salt dome in Turkey, and Heaven, accessible through the lake of an Antarctic volcano. In Hell there is one copy of everything ever written, but in Heaven angels are the only copies God toleratescopies of man, who is in turn the copy of a woman. And Heaven, we learn in a clever epilogue dated 1997, looks like the Titanic. While this conception of an alternate universe is the novel's significant achievement, Knox's failure to convey a fully realized narrative voice (except in the portions where the characters write letters to each other) may leave the reader feeling impressed but not totally enthusiastic. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
From New Zealander Knox comes this elegant, intriguing, and sometimes frustrating novel. It begins in 1808, when Sobran Jodeau comes across an angel in his French vineyard. This is the beginning of a long and complex friendship. Sobran and the angel, Xas, agree to meet on the same night each year, and the novel is structured around these meetings, which are presented in short chapters. As Sobran goes through life--marrying, having children and grandchildren, and making his vineyard a success--Xas serves as a guardian, providing comfort and advice. But their relationship is complicated by Xas' own needs, his mysterious place somewhere between heaven and hell, and the deep, erotically charged attachment that develops between angel and man. Knox presents her story in often beautiful prose that vividly conveys the time and place. Her portrayal of Xas is utterly convincing. So much about this novel is compelling, the reader sometimes wishes for more sustained narrative to further develop the ideas and images, rather than one short chapter following another. --Mary Ellen Quinn
Kirkus Book Review
This American debut by a veteran New Zealand novelist is a wonderfully imaginative tale, set in the 19th-century French countryside, of the long enduring, loving relationship between a man and an angel. The former is 18-year-old Sobran Jodeau, scion of a family of winemakers, who while drunk and unhappy in love encounters Xas, the celestial being who will thereafter visit him annually--until the angel's intimacy with his human lover propels him headlong into Sobran's complicated family and romantic life. The story is arguably overplotted (especially in later sequences that detail Xas's masquerade as tutor to Sobran's children or that explore the unconventional triangle formed by man, angel, and the younger noblewoman who eventually becomes Sobran's mistress). But a ferocious display of inventive power redeems and enlivens even the book's more extravagant convolutions. Knox's flexible, image-driven sentences effortlessly evoke the lush plenitude of Clos Jodeau and environs, as well as Xas's ineffable strangeness (sleeping in Sobran's bed, "He looked comical, like a young man sharing his bed with two large dogs, the humps his wings made under the covers"). "Fallen angel" Xas, rejected by both God and Lucifer for his intellectual curiosity as much as for his dalliance with a mortal, is a formidable creation. And Knox equals it with her searching portrayal of Sobran: an intelligent, perceptive man who passes through astonishment at the visitation that becomes the love of his life, through furious despair when he learns of Xas's fallen state and fears he has committed blasphemy, to a resigned old age in which he knows he can neither keep nor relinquish the vessel of grace (if indeed it be such) granted to him decades before. A one-of-a-kind novel. It's not for Touched by an Angel watchers, but many readers may respond as ecstatically to Knox's brilliantly original book as they did to Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.