I must doff my hat to Francis Gimblett and “In and Out of Africa…In Search of Gérard Depardieu”.
The ingenious set up is as follows. Our intrepid author finds himself on the Graham Norton show that is transmitted live to millions of late-night viewers. He is assigned with the task of appraising the aforementioned guest star’s Moroccan wine. Expecting little more than a shoddy, low acid, high alcohol, volatile monster, on the contrary Francis finds that “the wine is a joy to describe”. Unfortunately, there is no time to discuss method of vinification on a prime time chat show with its unrelenting priapic sense of humour. Gérard is whisked away and after several futile attempts to contact him, the only recourse is for Francis to drive to the vineyard from his home in Surrey to Morocco via Tunisia and Algeria, whereupon Mon. Depardieu would be waiting for him.
“Ho-hum,” I cynically pondered upon page one...let’s see if this yarn can keep me amused? Within the first few paragraphs, I quickly understood that the tousle-haired, peripatetic Gimblett has a truly wonderful sense of humour and a masterful writing style that maintains a balance between the seriousness of subject matter and a surfeit of wry observations, clever puns and unforeseen digressions that caused me to chuckle out loud approximately once every two or three pages. The fact that it is so easy and enjoyable to read belies the talent behind the pen. “In and Out of Africa…” is a quasi-Michael Palin travelogue, replete with evocative descriptions of landscapes rarely visited by Westerners, of disorientating labyrinthine medinas, dodgy carpet cellars, decrepit hotels and endless desert plains, all via the country’s wineries and wines (although when I visit Bordeaux I never have call for an armoured police escort, at least not yet.)
Combined with Gimblett’s humour, the preposterous notion of his quest, the descriptions of regions at the true marginal extremes of viticulture, then you have the making for a enjoyable light-hearted but occasionally thought-provoking book that at occasionally reminds me of Ishiguro’s “The Unconsoled” (but a lot funnier.) Does our hero reach the vineyard? Is Depardieu waiting to embrace him at the winery door? That would be telling. Just go seek out this gem and discover for yourself.
I review many books each week and this will be among this year’s Top 10 Best Reads for me. A rollicking good read.
The outside cover suggested that this book was “laugh-out-loud” funny (well, it would, wouldn’t it) but it’s true. This is a gem of a book and I intend to persuade Francis Gimblett to take more trips just so I can read the fruits of his labours on return. It’s hilarious!
This is without doubt one of the best reads about wine that has hit the printing presses for some time, removing the latent pomposity about the stuff.
Written with a sense of humour as dry as the contents of some of the bottles he encountered en voyage, and a wonderfully refreshing disregard for la politesse, his search for the elusive Gérard Depardieu with its wonderful climax is a riot. Be sure not to miss it.
The book had me laughing out loud and I often shook my head in disbelief at what he and his colleague got into. It’s an entertaining read.
I am perhaps a little more riveted by Depardieu and Magrez's adventures in Algeria and Tunisian Vermentino than the average wine lover. But I think most purple pagers would enjoy the book.
The book is an amusing and fun read. It’s far from the standard wine book.
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