The Holy Drinker

Written by Neil Randall
Review by Janet Williamson

This short fable opens in the remote Russian village of N, which is far removed from the ravages of the Bolshevik war. In the village, Taverner Ragged Peter stops a scuffle by narrating the story of Anatoly Vasilevich, Maximov – the Drinker. Peter used to work for this man, who had to be carried home after a three-day drinking binge and deposited on his sofa. Left alone, his whole life flashed before him. He cried for his lost love and realised he’d wasted his life on drink, and then transformed into a vat of ruby red wine.

When aged Marfa Orlova discovers this, her cries attract Captain Levsky of the local garrison and Father Simonon. Levsky notifies the authorities in St. Petersburg, and the priest sends for Father Zassimov, the highest regional cleric. The effects of the wine soon become an open secret, and speculation about Maximov’s absence arouses the Taverner’s suspicions. Trouble arises when people sneak illicit drinks from the vat. Everyone who drinks is subject to a transformation.

This mystical and entertaining fable engages from the outset, conveying period details of rural Russian life and the nature and relationships of the multiple characters with sparse but effective detail. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but this well-written and well researched mix of history and fantasy may not suit serious historians or rationalists.