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Corkscrew: The highly improbable, but occasionally true, tale of a professional wine buyer

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A bawdy, satirical novel set in the world of wine and big business.

Felix Hart, a tragic orphan, is expelled from school, cast on to the British high street, and forced to make his way in the cut-throat world of wine retailing. Thanks to a positive mental attitude, he is soon forging a promising career, his sensual adventures taking him to the vineyards of Italy, South Africa, Bulgaria and Kent. His path to the summit is littered with obstacles, however. Petty office politics, psychotic managers and the British Board of Wine & Liquor prove challenging enough. But when Felix negotiates the world’s biggest Asti Spumante deal, he bites off more than he can chew and is plunged into a terrifying world of Mafiosi, people smuggling and ruthless multinationals.

Part thriller, part self-help manual and part drinking companion, Corkscrew is a coruscating critique of neo-liberal capitalism, religious intolerance and the perils of blind tasting.

406 pages, Paperback

First published September 2, 2016

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About the author

Peter Stafford-Bow

4 books16 followers
Peter Stafford-Bow is a novelist and wine consultant, based in London. He is best known for his series of award-winning satires set in the world of wine and big business, featuring Felix Hart, a cheerfully amoral drinks executive. Stafford-Bow is a noted public speaker, wine educator and a regular on the literary festival circuit.

A self-taught imbiber, Stafford-Bow dropped out of university to pursue a career in alcohol. After several years working for a chain of wine merchants, he became a supermarket buyer, a role which sent him to every major wine-producing country in the world. After periods working in Asia and Africa, Stafford-Bow returned to the UK to pursue a literary career.

Stafford-Bow's debut novel, Corkscrew: the highly improbable, but occasionally true, tale of a professional wine buyer, is a picaresque, satirical tale drawing on the author's early years working as an international wine buyer for some of the world’s largest retailers. Corkscrew is a People's Book Prize finalist (winner announced in May 2019).

The sequel, Brut Force, released on 1st November 2018, is a thriller that finds Felix Hart caught between a blackmailing luxury goods corporation and a gang of organic wine fanatics. The third novel in the series is due for release in summer 2019.

Stafford-Bow's favourite authors include John le Carré, Hilary Mantel and George MacDonald Fraser. He is currently on a worldwide tour promoting Brut Force and sampling as many wines as he can lay his hands on.

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5 stars
62 (32%)
4 stars
60 (31%)
3 stars
47 (25%)
2 stars
15 (7%)
1 star
4 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 56 reviews
March 7, 2021
Corkscrew is a brightly entertaining tongue-in-cheek novel. It’s the humorous and racy journey of Felix Hart from his expelled school days to a senior position as a buyer with a major supermarket brand. Felix is extremely witty, sexually obsessed, and hugely ambitious. There are numerous instances where you will struggle to contain your laughter. The sexual innuendos and sarcastic dialogue are funny and are well mixed with slap-stick comedic incidents. I did spread the joy to those in earshot!

Felix is a charmer and an opportunist. In all his jobs he sees opportunities for self-advancement, often to the detriment of others, although all his colleagues also seem ruthless with regards self-recognition. He is very intelligent and has a mesmerising knack for getting things done, which is well recognised by his bosses. Hidden and currently on his side is a powerful and secretive player that also wants to see him succeed. There’s always a bigger fish but the question is will you be a friend or foe when it matters.

I enjoyed the way the story developed, although even the author reminds us that it is a highly improbable but occasionally true story. It reminded me of Wolf of Wall Street in terms of unlimited ambition, uncanny persuasive ability, and the play hard rewards when a good job is done well. Felix travels all over the world having specific responsibilities in countries such as Bulgaria, South Africa, Germany, and Italy. There are wonderful tales to be told regarding his exploits in each country, the friends he meets and the precarious situations he finds himself in.

For me, this was a book I didn’t want to put down. It doesn't take life too seriously and is a lighthearted romp around the world of wine, women and ambition. Many thanks to Thistle Publishing for an ARC version of the book in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Caro (Bookaria).
585 reviews18.4k followers
May 10, 2018
This is a funny novel that takes place in the world of wine.

Felix Hart, our main character, is an orphan that starts working in the wine industry and after many adventures and ordeals ends up being interrogated by the authorities. This is not a spoiler as the book opens up with Felix being questioned.

The story is told from the point of view of Felix and is over-the-top funny. Sometimes the situations were a bit absurd for me but I understood that the author was trying to make a point.

Overall, I liked it and recommend it to lovers of wine and readers of contemporary fiction.

ARC received via Netgalley
Profile Image for *TUDOR^QUEEN* .
408 reviews428 followers
May 21, 2018
I received this advance reader copy from Thistle publishing.

***DNF @ 45%***

This book was promising at the beginning, quite humorous with unexpected laugh- out- loud moments. It takes place in England where we follow the exploits of one Felix Hart, a professional wine buyer. As the book begins, Felix is a tragic figure, an orphan attending a prestigious prep school. He's expelled from the school, but with a lead for a job in wine retail. He has a natural aptitude for this and quickly turns around a failing wine concern in Crouch End called "Charlie's Cellar." Along the way he encounters unexpected roadblocks which he handily navigates and triumphs over, such as the pub being held up and the upstairs apartment that comes with managing the pub being illegally occupied by an eccentric commune.

As an almost offhand incidental, he becomes a father after knocking up the daughter of one of London's titled gentry. This occurred at the very beginning of the book and was so hysterically written that it drew me in. To quote a passage from the book, this is how the conversation went down:

Felix: I wasn't sure we'd be together for too much longer, though I didn't want anyone's feelings hurt, of course. Fingers crossed she was calling to end it all.

Portia: "I'll get to the point, Felix. I'm pregnant. With your child."

Felix: I felt as though I'd been punched in the stomach. "How?" I whispered.

Portia: "It's very simple, Felix. You ejaculated your sperm into my uterus."

Felix: "Ah. Yes, I see."

Unfortunately, as I approached the middle of the book, the story ran out of gas for me. His success in the industry was on the incline through his ingenuity and perhaps sheer luck. Felix began to travel to other international locales to make wine deals, interacting with mysterious characters involving intrigue...and I just lost interest in where the story was going. In the end, it just wasn't my cup of tea. Another of my Goodreads' friends liked this much more than I did, so please check out the other reviews before straying away from this book.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,277 reviews119 followers
September 30, 2020
Felix Hart is expelled from boarding school for being a “naughty, naughty” boy. Before leaving, he asks advice from his favorite professor who gives him an herbal African concoction called ‘Madame Joubert’s Lekker Medisyne Trommel’ and a recommendation that he should become a wine merchant if he wanted to travel and continue to party. Felix lacks any scruples, and Stafford-Bow has him bouncing from one bizarre adventure to the next, with each one landing him a promotion in the world of wine buyers.

Stafford-Bow just happens to be a wine educator/consultant himself and his geeky discussions of wine grapes and regions is interesting and educational. However, his Felix Hart character is a unrepentant womanizer that seems dated and offensive to today’s female readers. I found it tiresome and prevented me from enjoying the more comical aspects of the plot.
Profile Image for Jannelies.
949 reviews58 followers
May 1, 2018
Where shall I begin? Pour myself a glass of wine and sit down to write a glowing review would be a good start.
This book is every bit as funny as the other reviewers are saying. I sometimes laughed so hard I had to stop reading.
What I liked about the book: English is not my first language, so I like reading this kind of books to learn more of the language (I'm a fan of Wendy Holden too). It is, underneath all that is happening, actually quite informative and I learned things about wine I didn't know. The author really knows how to work out characters and how to work out a complicated (and sometimes ridiculous) plot in a way the reader keeps reading because it suddenly sounds so right.
I keep giggling when writing this, and not because of the wine because it is 11.25 now and I'm drinking coffee... I hope this author will keep treating us with more stories.

I received a pdf from Thistle Publishing. Thank you for brightening up my week!
Profile Image for Randal White.
773 reviews68 followers
April 23, 2018
This is a laugh out loud book! I had a very hard time putting it down.
The main character is a young man climbing his way up the corporate ladder in the wine business. Along the way, he has some of the most outrageous adventures.
This book should appeal to anyone who enjoys wine, or movies like Sideways, Somm, or Cement Suitcase.
I sincerely hope that this book is turned into a movie! As I was reading it, I could not help but imagine a young George Clooney as the main character.
I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
Profile Image for Angela.
250 reviews1 follower
October 2, 2018
This is one of the funniest books I've read in a long time. The book opens with Felix Hart being interrogated by an unknown 'authority' to the point he feels he's not going to get out of the meeting alive. From here, Felix tells his life story from being an orphan expelled from a prestigious school, and his decision to do work which he enjoys – drinking wine.

Felix gets into some terrible scrapes yet always seems to come up smelling of roses. His career in the wine industry prospers and takes him around the world drinking fine wines and dallying with the ladies. Felix is a very likeable character even though he's a cad and a drunk much of the time.

The language is a little ripe at times and there are a few rude scenes but so hilariously executed. Excellently written and brilliantly plotted.
Profile Image for Jena Henry.
Author 3 books327 followers
June 20, 2018
It takes a lot for me to laugh out loud while reading a book- but I was chuckling, gasping, shrieking and absolutely delighted with this book. This hilarious and well-written spoof or satire features Felix Hart, who shares his amazing story with us in the first person. He is a pleasant, devil-may-care bon vivant who knows that the wine glass of life is always half full. When he gets knocked down by zany circumstances, he always rises to the occasion. Literally.

When he realizes that a career in the wine business will gratify many of his desires, wine and women in beautiful countries, he sets his mind on succeeding in the corporate world. His story of his life and adventures, spiced with many creative characters, will charm you. Just don’t drink wine as you read this gem of a book, as you may find yourself laughing and sputtering wine all over! This is a page turner and not for the sheltered soul.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this book.
Profile Image for Mandy.
3,103 reviews261 followers
April 27, 2018
I really didn’t expect to enjoy this crazy book so much. I usually run a mile when I see words such as “mad-cap romp” and “farce” but such is the verve and skill with which this book is written that I was more than happy to go along for the ride – and what a ride it is, quite preposterous much of the time, but rooted firmly enough in reality to make it a social satire of some depth. It’s the story of orphaned Felix Hart, expelled from school, who finds a job in a down-at-heel off-licence. From which humble beginnings he embarks on a stellar career as a wine buyer and in the process becomes a master of wine – when things get a little more complicated. The author is a very good storyteller indeed and the book is well-crafted and well-paced. His observational humour is spot-on, and if it’s all a bit over-the-top, it’s nevertheless funny, witty and packs a considerable punch about the wine trade and wine connoisseurship. Thoroughly good fun and a most enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Zippy.
175 reviews
March 23, 2018
i won a copy of this book in the good reads giveaway,
i loved this book, it was totally not what i expected, i thought it would be a light hearted book about a wine seller, what i got was a different and very funny book about a young guy getting mixed up in some very crazy situations while trying to rise to the top of his game, there are some fantastic laugh out loud moments,
Profile Image for C.
350 reviews3 followers
May 3, 2018
When I first thought about reading this book, I was hesitate. A book about wine...I don't even drink how could I understand...but don't judge a book by it's cover. Even though it is about wine, the Author put his own spin on it with laugh out moments, some scary moments that ended up so funny. I was literally laughing out loud and had to stop and reread the part to laugh all over again. This book has it all and a lot I wasn't expecting. The main character Felix Hart is a riot. Felix Hart got kicked out of school and found himself as a wine buyer. What this man went through to sell his wine isn't your everyday go into a store and try to get a contract, no this man went over the hills and everywhere. The one guy he worked for I didn't like and can't believe how together Felix remained. His under the breath moments were the best. I loved his drunk moments and the part with the ostrich or emu. I highly recommend reading this book about wine and the crazy moments to make a buck.

Thank you Net Gallery, Thistle Publishing, Peter Stafford-Bow, and David Haviland.

I absolutely loved this book and was surprised how I fell right into the pages.

Profile Image for Emi Yoshida.
1,429 reviews80 followers
May 7, 2018
Cartoonishly over-the-top romp through the British alcoholic beverages industry. Excellent first novel by whoever Peter Stafford-Bow is in real life (no author photo provided). As its subtitle intimates this book is nearly an exposé; and as outrageous as main character Felix Hart's memoir-as-police-interrogation-confessional is, his story is both gripping and hilariously informative. Felix boisterously humps his way up the ranks and around the world from vineyard to vineyard, and Stafford-Bow artfully employs colorful slang, epithets and expletives in various languages, a send-up of the MW qualification, even obscure research on ostrich sexual confusion - just shy of gilding this rip-roaring lily.
5 reviews2 followers
October 30, 2016
I usually read non-fiction but had this recommended. It's very funny, pacy and full of knowledgable wine in-jokes. The section where he attempts the Master - sorry, MINSTREL - of wine tasting exam is a masterpiece!
Profile Image for Sara.
160 reviews4 followers
February 6, 2017

Somehow my book club stumbled upon this book. I'm pretty sure I was the only one who didn't want to read it. Now I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who enjoyed it. It's completely ridiculous and absurd and pretty stupid. I liked it. Should probably be a movie.
June 20, 2019
excellent debut novel. really enjoyed Felix's adventures - and learned a lot about wine!
Profile Image for Jacqui.
225 reviews3 followers
June 5, 2018
Corkscrew is a standalone novel and one filled with comedy and farce about the wine tasting and buying industry.

Felix Hart is a rogue and a scoundrel and it comes as no surprise that he is being questioned for dubious practices. But as with all stories, the tale must be told from the start. So begins a tale about how Felix was kicked out of school for ‘spreading his wild oats too liberally’ and being introduced to the world of wine. Felix soon learns how to manipulate the people and the system and works his way up to being a buyer for a large chain of stores. As he becomes set to offer the biggest Asti Spumante deal in history, he finds himself embroiled in some crazy schemes taking him to many places all over the world. Added to that we have his test to become a Wine Minstrel and the secret powder he had mixed in South Africa. By all accounts, Felix shouldn’t be alive with what he has put his body through. Yet here he is at the start of a new adventure.

You have to suspend all belief when you take this story on. Just put aside preconceived notions about what alcohol does to the body, what animals in the bush do and do not do and about the sucking effects of sunken toilets. If you can look past that you will literally laugh out loud as you enjoy this book. Sometimes you need something in life like this that will take you away from reality and just have a good laugh. Since I’m from South Africa and can understand the Afrikaans use in the book, I was often in tears at some of the things said. As much as Felix was actually a terrible person, I enjoyed his character so much I wanted him to get away with everything he got himself involved in! He seemed to genuinely believe that nothing he ever did was wrong or really his fault.

I highly recommend this book as a light-hearted read filled with fun, craziness and lots and lots of alcohol.

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review the book.
Profile Image for Stefani Akins.
210 reviews13 followers
August 1, 2018
I have a confession to make: there are no more cookbooks in the queue for a while. Some of my newer readers might be shocked to find that I also read other non-fiction. And fiction. And occasionally, just for the heck of it. Call it brain candy - and no worries, there are no calories attached. This particular novel kept me engaged from absurd beginning to topsy-turvy end.

"Corkscrew" is the perfect companion for an afternoon or an evening (or two) when you just want to sit back and unwind (pun not particularly original, but nonetheless intended). Young Felix Hart faces the daunting possibility of ending up a loser straight out of school, but fate has something better in store for him: a stellar career in the wine industry! Learning that he has a real knack for highly specialized retail, Felix embarks on the crazy journey of a lifetime, aided by a cast of colorful characters (I guarantee that you'll remember Wodin, Wikus, and the Spott-Hythes long after you've finished the book) and a vast assortment of equally unlikely, yet wondrously entertaining events. Like a James Bond of viticulture, Felix always has time for little relaxation on the job, as well. You simply must stay for the outrageous climax that could end Felix's spot at the top of the ladder, but luckily, there is just one more twist in store. Pour yourself a glass of your favorite bevvy, keep your tongue stuck firmly in your cheek, and see if you can pick up enough pointers to pass the Minstrel of Wine examination!

Grape Experiences has posted a funny and informative Q&A with author Peter Stafford-Bow for those who are interested in the story behind the story.

"Corkscrew" is published by Thistle Publishing. I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for a review. Needless to say, all opinions are my own, except where otherwise stated.
Profile Image for Pop Bop.
2,443 reviews99 followers
January 7, 2019
"Tom Jones" Goes Into the Wine Business

It was not entirely clear from the subtitle, the blurbs, and such whether this was going to be just a genial memoir of life in the wine business or a more robust fictional outing. Well, happy to say this falls decidedly into the picaresque camp. In fact, I just looked at a definition of "picaresque" so as not to embarrass myself, and the definition of the word concisely captures the essence of this novel - "... a genre of prose fiction that depicts the adventures of a roguish, but 'appealing hero', of low social class, who lives by his or her wits in a corrupt society." (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

This is a terribly funny book. And it's funny pretty much every way it's possible to be funny - there is slapstick, antic mayhem, dry and deadpan skewering, brutal satirical set pieces, witty banter, inspired absurdity, frat boy sexual innuendo, political humor, and an everything-but-the-kitchen sink plot. Along the way we send up the wine business, supermarkets, capitalism in general, horrible bosses, horrible co-workers, wine snobbery, corporate politics, international politics, neighborhood politics, and Asti Spumante.

It's dry but full-bodied, and despite the occasional lull to allow for some plot advancement, it was a complete success as an entertaining romp. A delightful find. (Please note that I received a free ecopy of this book without a review requirement, or any influence regarding review content should I choose to post a review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)
Profile Image for Idea Smith.
338 reviews69 followers
April 30, 2018
Orphans, human trafficking, drug-addled hippies, safaris, dubious trans witch doctors, evil capitalist corporations - this book has it all. And yet, it somehow manages to stay cheerful and funny. Felix is a highly successful wine buyer for a major British department store chain. His humble beginnings and the snootiness of British society barely deter him as he rises steadily and through international adventures.

The entire tale mocks the rigidity of British aristocracy, the snobbery of wine circles, the unbridled greed of large corporations, while keeping a perfectly straight face. The bits in Africa and later, with the Somalis are particularly gruesome in their casual racism and violence. That's the only reason I'd give this 3 stars instead of 4 or even 5. Barring the Brit condescension to all things non-white, I quite enjoyed this book. In trademark British humour, the story sails on merrily and ends up in a neat bittersweet-and-still-laughing ending.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
1,079 reviews
August 17, 2017
This book will appeal to any wine lover. Felix Hart starts his career in the fast and competitive world of wine retailing. He wants to climb the ladder quickly and will stop at nothing to do that.
The adventures of Felix and the ridiculous antics and situations he finds himself in will have the reader laughing.
In the course of his work he travels to Bulgaria, Kent, South Africa and Italy but nothing runs smoothly and some parts of the book are hilarious. The author writes in such a way that you feel as if you are accompanying Felix in his travels and some of the situations he gets into are absurd.
The part of the novel where he attempts to pass his final exams on the Minstrel of Wine Tasting course is a masterstroke and is written with such skill and humour.
I would definitely recommend this book to others.
I receive a copy from the author and Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. Thank you.
15 reviews
August 13, 2018
If you like rollicking, bawdy humour, cartoon-like scenarios, and over-the-top situations... if you like a good belly laugh at complete silliness... if you laugh at sexy jokes and toilet humour, then this book is for you! If now of the above is true, then maybe you should pass on this one...

The main character, Felix Hart, is an ambitious young man who falls into the wine trade by accident and decides to climb the corporate ladder with little concern for anyone on the way. This lack of conscience makes him the perfect candidate for the corporate world and he makes his way upward, wrecking havoc and breaking hearts all the way. He finds himself in all kinds of crazy situations, and being an inveterate liar, charmer and manipulator, he always finds a way to come out on top. His journey to the top is crazy, hilarious, sprinkled with colourful characters and lots of bawdy humour. This novel is a light-hearted, fun journey, eliciting quite a few giggles along the way.
Profile Image for Annette.
1,523 reviews7 followers
April 23, 2018
Felix Hart lives a life straight out of a 1930's slap stick movie. Except there is a lot of sex.

Felix gets kicked out of his posh school and his life becomes one adventure after another.

This book has a great deal of humor and a plot that is filled with action. I do not want to be that person that tells plot points, so I won't.

To be honest, I would not like Felix to be a close friend of mine. But, he makes a wonderfully amusing character. He has a lack of integrity but a great sense of humor. He is a very bright person who can see an opportunity coming his way long before it arrives.

In short, he is perfect for this book.

I have been completely entertained by Mr Stafford-Bow's writing. I received this book from the publisher. I am voluntarily writing this review and all opinions are my own.

Profile Image for Cherry London.
Author 1 book79 followers
April 30, 2018
A rather jovial and interesting tale told with much gusto and swag, about Felix's introduction into the wine buying business. Filled with innuendos, sexual conquest, drugs even death and a hold lot more. Felix seems to be one of those guys who go about without much care in the world, except drinking having a good time and thinking about his next sexual conquest. A bit of a sleazeball who turns his back on his responsibility as a father but embraces the responsibility of the running of a wine establishment. Mmm, a clash of principles, I believe. This was a curious and interesting read for me and Felix's exploits was just as much.
Profile Image for Julie.
417 reviews5 followers
May 9, 2018
I received this book via the publisher for an honest review.

As a young-ish canadian who does not drink or like wine, im not sure why i decided to read the book. I was attracted by the blurb of the book. I kept waiting for the book to get funny, maybe I was not made for British humour. As the title says, the highly improbable, feels right. I can't see how any of this could be true or even possible but again, i know nothing about wine. There are the red's, white's, rosé, ice and champagne. That is the extent of my knowledge on wine.

I feel like I am bashing the author but im not, just expressing my point of view.
Profile Image for Patricia Bello.
1,015 reviews1 follower
June 11, 2018
This was an unexpected book...and I enjoyed it! And in the movie my head, a younger Brad Pitt as the charming Felix. I wanted to have a glass of wine every time and explore the nearest wine shop. Felix is absolutely charming and with the help of Madame Joubert's medicine, a very lucky man. He goes from being an out of school youth to one of the top wine buyers of the biggest conglomerate in the country. I thoroughly enjoyed the Director (wish he was around longer), Wilkus, the Spott-Hydes, Georgi and Wodin. It got a little odd in the end with it's twist but I am now hoping that there'll be more adventures of Felix.

I received a copy of the book for my honest opinion.
Profile Image for Sreevarsha Sreejith.
33 reviews12 followers
July 8, 2018
All in all, Corkscrew is an interesting piece of satire that presents the often preposterous nature of human existence coated in thinly veiled sarcasm. The story of Felix Hart and his questionable (and often unappetizing, more Deadpool than Captain America, if you get my drift) life choices might not make you think, might not even induce a vicarious thrill in you, but will definitely make you laugh out loud a few times. It is not a story that stays with you afterwards, but it is one that will take the blues away from a rainy day.

For a detailed review, please visit my blog, https://sreevarshasreejith.blogspot.c...
73 reviews
December 18, 2018
I received this book on #Netgalley some time ago, but just got around to reading it. Like many other reviewers have written this book is laugh out loud funny. I liked this book so much I ordered the next book, "Brut Force" before I finished reading this one. If you have ever worked for a big box store you will truly appreciate this book!!! The author has the culture of the big box retailer down!!! Love and highly recommend this book.
9 reviews1 follower
May 10, 2018
Hilarious doesn’t do this book justice I never knew the wine industry could do much fun
The antics of Felix Hart climbing up the greasy corporate pole caused me to laugh out loud
not something I normally do when reading
Looking forward to reading more from this author

Thanks to Thistle publishing for the chance to read this
Displaying 1 - 30 of 56 reviews

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