THE LAST ESTATE by Conor Bowman
“Everybody has some kind of scar, and I have already explained how I have come to have mine. Lines drawn across my face divide my horizons–mark the end of my childhood and the beginning of another phase–these fractions of my life blur together if I am honest now. ”
Review by Betsey Van Horn (AUG 27, 2010)
This is a short but pungent tale about crime, betrayal, passion, love, and a scar–both real and psychic. How juicy is that? Especially when you blend in the CÃ´tes du RhÃ´ne-Villages wine made from the dark-skinned Syrah, MourvÃ¨dre, and Cisault grapes. Throw in a pivotal love affair, a chateau, a virulent father, and an odious priest, and you have the crushing, pressing, and fermenting ingredients of a serious page-turner. The title refers to the legacy of the protagonist–the chateau, estate, and wine cellar he is set to inherit.
In a tiny village at the foot of the Dentelles Mountains, sixteen-year-old Christian Aragon is finishing up his education at the village lycÃ©e. The year is 1920, and his brother Eugene has already died in the Great War several years ago. His father (Papa) runs the wine chateau of Montmirail and expects Christian to honor his legacy and enter the family business. His mother has no influence on the racist, violent, and hateful rages of Papa, and Christian is often the beneficiary of undeserved beatings and mental cruelty.
“In the countryside, where the village is the kingdom and the child is the peasant, the father is king. The son is like a granite rock on the edge of a vineyard; his job is to reflect, and his destiny is to remain in that place forever.”
Christian is a headstrong, fearless young man who has experienced loss and deep sorrow. Besides the death of his brother, there was a boy, Couderc, who inflicted a large facial scar on him with a hunting knife. Cicatrice is the French word for scar, and for a time this became Christian’s sobriquet. Coudrec died of TB a year later, and Christian grieves for him. They shared an enigmatic glance the last time they met in the village square, right before he died.
Christian is psychologically advanced for his years; he’s a complex, self-willed, and passionate young man that hails the freedom of the spirit, the self, and the soul.
“I believe most of all in the inherent capacity man and woman possess to change.”
“…to become what we want, and to refuse to continue to be who and what we are if those manifestations do not reflect our own desires.”
Fate brings opportunity and a school trip effects a turning point for Christian. Desire leads to love and consequences, and a crime could bring ruin on Christian’s life and the life of his beloved, Vivienne Pleyben, his geography teacher. To add brimstone to the fire, the Jesuit priest, Father Leterrier, inadvertently learns of Christian and Vivienne’s relationship and tries to turn it into a sordid affair. Letterier is an obsessive fanatic and a hypocrite who is mired in his own secret desires and contradictions. He comes in twice a month to instruct the adolescents on moral welfare and “Holy Purity,” and delivers his sermons with a frightening zeal.
Christian does have a friend, George Phavorin, his father’s foreman, who offers indefatigable loyalty and fatherly love. His character is a striking contrast to Christian’s bully of a father.
The narrative is told by Christian in a solemn style that fits the times and setting. There is a mournful rim, but the tone is blended with the compelling and muscular verve of the protagonist. The final scene is foreshadowed with a hint of danger and a tortured suspense, and the ending is satisfying and messy, but strangely immaculate.
Conor Bowman is an Irish author who spent many summers in France. Like George Moore (1852-1933), he is a largely naturalistic writer that was obviously influenced by the French realist writers, like Ã‰mile Zola (1840-1902). However, there is a healthy dose of Romanticism in this tale that offsets the harsh darkness and pervasive pessimism of the former writers. This is his first novel published in the United States. I look forward to his next novel, The Redemption of George Baxter Henry.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 7 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Permanent Press (August 1, 2010)|
|REVIEWER:||Betsey Van Horn|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Conor Bowman|
|EXTRAS:||Publisher’s page onÂ The Last Estate|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Another that might be of interest:
- Life and Death and in Between: Stories (2004)
- Wasting By Degress (1998)
- The Last Estate (2008; August 2010 in US)
- The Redemption of George Baxter Henry (2008; August 2011 in US)