x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The Vintage and the Gleaning: finding meaning in the end

Book Review In the late Eighties in a rugged country town in north-eastern Australia, one man struggles to come to terms with the alcoholic fog he's chosen to spend his life in.

The Vintage and the Gleaning
 Jeremy Chambers
 MacLehose Press
 Dh55
The Vintage and the Gleaning Jeremy Chambers MacLehose Press Dh55

Smithy is a retired sheep shearer who has ruined his body through a lifetime of heavy drinking. He's now sober, and sobered by a new found sense of clarity. "All I got now is memories and regrets ... That's me life. Gone."

His is an authentic voice of outback Australia: hard, flat and raw. Set in the late Eighties in a rugged country town in north-east Victoria, The Vintage and the Gleaning is about one man's struggle to come to terms with the inebriated fog he's chosen to spend his life in. The first half is slow going as Smithy categorises his many failings: he had a wife he ignored who died of cancer; he was never there for his son who's now following in his footsteps. Long descriptive passages detailing the harsh landscape are interspersed with monosyllabic exchanges between macho men.

The pace quickens when Smithy takes in Charlotte, the young wife of a sociopath who's due for release from prison. Sitting in Smithy's living room, she recounts an appalling story about her honeymoon - it's enough for him to load his old shotgun and place it under the bed. Charlotte talks about leaving town and escaping the very real danger of her situation but considering all the time she's had to do so, one has to wonder if Smithy's attempts at gallantry are not wasted on her.