Ashland and Vine by John Burnside (Review)

ashland and vine

It is 1999. Kate Lambert, a grieving, semi-alcoholic film student, invites an elderly woman to take part in an oral-history documentary. The woman, Jean Culver, declines, but makes her a bizarre counter-offer: if Kate can stay sober for four days, she will tell her a story. And if she can stay sober beyond that, there will be another, and then another, amounting to the entire history of one family’s life.

(352 pages)

I picked this up from the library on impulse simply because of the cover. Shallow? Yes. Do I regret it? Not at all.

I had never heard of the book or the author before, I went into it totally unknowing, and I fell in love. This book just blew me away page by page. It started off slowly, building up an idea of who Kate was, and what her relationship was like, but as soon as she met Jean… BOOM!

This isn’t a simple story, although on the face of it, it appears that way.

Over a long period Jean tells Kate the story of her life, along with that of her family. In return Kate remains sober. Her new found sobriety changes her, and she begins to develop and learn a lot about herself and the world. The stories Jean tells aren’t just on a personal level. They involve a lot of modern American history, shown through a personal lens.

I am finding it so difficult to put into words why I loved this so much. It was beautiful on a personal level, but at the same time it encompassed a bigger picture.

Fantastic. One of my favourites of the entire year so far!!

Finished on 25th May 2017


You can buy the book here if you wish

Ashland and Vine by John Burnside


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