The Story of Mats Israelson

The football fans amongst us have compared football teams to wine, see here.  Also cars, rather simply, here.  I’m now going to have a crack at literature.

Julian Barnes is a bit of a wino.  I meant this not in the American way; I mean he is an enthusiast and connoisseur.  A month or so I bought and read “Pulse”, his most recent publication of short stories, and it was so good I subsequently bought “The Lemon Table” which so far, at least to my taste, is even better.  Indeed one story – the “The Story of Mats Israelson” – is why I’m here.

The master of literature, or at least modern literature, as far as I am concerned, is Mr Rushdie.  I met him once – Waterstone’s in Notting Hill, early Summer of 1997.  I had accepted my first job in the wine business that same day.  He jumped when I said hello – this makes for a rather good story as he had every reason to be jumpy at the time.  I congratulated him on “The Moor’s Last Sigh”, though to say that I congratulated him is rather like saying that I congratulate the Sun on a good Summer day.  I rather thanked him for it.  And to translate into the vinous, Salman Rushdie is Haut-Brion: the best though, as with Haut-Brion, not everyone knows it.  Though those that do know that they are right.  The Moor’s Last Sigh is up there with the 1989 or 1990.

I remain a fan of Martin Amis.  And yes: he’s a first growth too, albeit a rather inconsistent one.  And his flashiness, combined with the on-off brilliance, is rather Mouton-esque.  “London Fields” or “Money”: you’d be hard pushed to find a better read (in coach to NY).  The finish is occasionally short: comes quicker than you would think.  But both “Time’s Arrow” and “The House of Meetings” are genuinely profound.  “The Pregnant Widow” is what I would describe as “complete, if a little over-ripe, too well-made”.  That would be modern Mouton.  Brilliant, though just asking for a kicking from the snobs and the critics.  2009.

Norman Mailer?  Brilliant.  But he’s a Dom Perignon and cocaine mixer and driving your Porsche home at high speed after the two.  You almost ride his novels: you get on them.  “The American Dream” is probably 1996 Dom Perignon and powder fresh from the mountains.  The Porsche is a late 1970s Turbo.

But back to Julian Barnes and the Story of Mats Israelson.

On finishing this, I felt complete.  I felt like a man who had smoked his last cigarette and was enjoying the air in his lungs.  The story is lost love, but that’s not the point.  The point is the style – the precision.  A precision that I struggled to define, though the memory of something similar was filed somewhere in my brain, albeit in a non-literary drawer.  The memory was 2001 Chevalier-Montrachet, Leflaive.  You could put this note to the story or the wine:

Impeccable precision.  Defined, balanced; impeccable focus.  Multi-layered within the precision.  No gloss, just pin-sharp polish.  Complete.