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July 20, 2009 | by  | in Books |
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One for the ladies


The film adaptation of Elizabeth Knox’s acclaimed novel The Vintner’s Luck, directed by Niki Caro, is due for release on October. Appetite whetted for Jeremie Renier as (foxy) French winemaker, Keisha Castle-Hughes as winemaker’s insane (foxy) wife, and Gaspard Ulliel as winemaker’s (foxy) angelic lover, I didn’t want to court disappointment by reading the book. Luckily, Sailent let me review the sequel.

The Angel’s Cut paces the airfields, back roads and boulevards of the early twentieth century. Locations and dates are methodically chronicled: ‘The piers, Forest Lawn Cemetery, and Sunset Boulevard; July, 1929’, ‘Los Angeles, and a spa in the Sierras; October, 1931’.

Angel Xas, numb from the loss of his wings and vintner lover, throws himself into stunt work and lusty couplings with maverick Conrad Cole. Actress-turned-film-editor Flora McLeod is bound by a ‘kind of cutaneous belt above and below which any extra flesh would billow, and pull at every movement’. Xas and Flora gradually grow towards each other, plot interspersed with attacks from Lucifer and Cole as his human equivalent.

The parallels between the two characters are well crafted. Xas crippled because he could not stay chaste (spoiler: that’s not really why they cut off his wings) and Flora chaste because her scars force her legs to stay closed. Both remain distant from the men they love, although most of the characters in The Angel’s Cut read as somewhat detached from their surroundings.

This is an easy novel to read. Knox’s prose sits somewhere between the styles of E. Annie Proulx and Margaret Atwood, lush imagery restrained by matter-of-fact characterisation and a confident narrative. Xas is an intoxicatingly human angel, reckless yet vulnerable, he reminds me of some chaps I know. Flora is a bit of a ‘Mary-Sue’ though, too saintly and successful for a woman who spends most of the novel nursing her scars and unrequited love.

Knox’s highly-acclaimed imagination is her key strength as a writer. The theology in The Angel’s Cut is original enough to be interesting and grounded enough not be tacky. As with Proulx, there is a danger that the sum total of her imaginings will become too surreal or idealised to be believed—sweet if your prose is strong enough to stand alone or your readers are Pynchon fans, not so sweet if you want readers to emotionally invest in your characters.

All up, sweet and graceful on a strong backbone of originality.

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Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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