Avon (Harper Collins), London 2009
mid-teen to adult
380 page paperback
Another spur of the moment purchase of a Christmas book, this perhaps not a book I would normally choose.
Four people and those around them look for happiness and peace, while a country town struggles against nature and developers.
I gave you my heart … you gave it away… to save me from tears … someone special
With the parts of the book given those titles, it inspires hearing the Wham song “Last Christmas” throughout this book! The message of the song does fit with the story, but it is a small connection and Wham is mentioned only once so don’t let your opinion of the music influence your decision about reading this book!
Anyway, this is a fairly light read about the lives and relationships of four main characters. I must say it was fairly predictable in terms of outcomes but the journey to reach those outcomes took a few unexpected turns. It is not just a romance book as it covers issues such as mental illness, Alzheimer’s and gratitude along with modern life stresses.
The town where some of the characters live and others are involved through work is called Hope Christmas, and this seemed to be the main link to a Christmas story for a fair chunk of the book. However, the spirit of Christmas and generosity moves throughout and it does build towards the Christmas season and the town’s Christmas performance of the nativity story.
A few things I didn’t like were missing details – for example, one child plays an important part but we are never given his age and I found it difficult to understand his comprehension of events thinking he was a pre-schooler but later discovered he attends school – and some jumps in time – headed by ‘this year’ and ‘last year’ to continue the Wham theme, but seemingly of no value to have things out of order. Sometimes, jumping in time builds suspense or gives a broader context to the characters, but in this instance I found it annoying to read of ‘after what happened last Christmas’ without knowing what had happened, and then finally knowing what had happened and finding ‘it’ fairly mundane.
One of my favourite characters, old Ralph Nicholas, is positive and reassuring, but not present in much of the story. The final twist with him is sweet but perhaps pushing the boundaries of the genre for this book.
So do I recommend it? As a nice book to be read at any time of the year, it is worth the effort of finding it. In the lead up to Christmas, it may serve as a good reminder to concentrate on the important elements of Christmas – a perfect meal or the biggest gift is not what we should be focussing on.
It is a Christmas story, and Williams had a number of other Christmas books if you want a few adult Christmas stories to curl up in front of a fire with, or to give as Christmas gifts.
PS If, like me, you have never heard of a nativity mystery play let me tell you that a mystery play is an old term referring to plays that show a biblical story in a church as a tableaux with accompanying songs. In this instance, mystery is used in the meaning of miracle.