Every once in a while you find a writer that seems to have a way with words that seems to speak directly to you, the reader. It is a talent coveted by many, and one that Rachel Joyce possesses. Her novels “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry“, “The love song of Miss Queenie Hennessey” and “Perfect” have all been favorites of mine. Now, with this book, she has written seven linked stories with a Christmas theme running throughout.
It has to be said that I even enjoyed the forward. In it the author describes how the characters in this book were sort of ‘left-over’ from her other books. We readers get a tiny glimpse into the author’s mind and how she views the characters portrayed in her fiction. Peripheral characters in her other books whose appearance in them was very minimal, or cut out altogether. She cared enough about their stories that she felt they needed to be told. And I’m glad she did.
A quote from the forward: “We are at the centre of our own stories. And sometimes it is hard to believe that we are not at the centre of other people’s. But I love the fact that you can brush past a person with your own story so big in your mind and at the same time be a simple passer-by in someone else’s. A walk-on part.”
Of the seven linked stories in this volume, my favorite has to be “A snow garden” – the title story. It tells of a father who has temporary custody of his two sons over the holidays. He has separated from his wife, due in part, to the fact that he has experienced some mental illness in the form of hallucinations. The story portrays the difficulties and the joys, the promises and the uncertainties of being a parent.
My favorite character of the seven stories has to be Binny, a forty-seven year old single mother. She is mentioned in both the first story, “The faraway smell of lemon” and the last one, “Trees“. Her live-in partner, Oliver, has just a few days before Christmas – left her…
“His absence became a presence and she thought of nothing else”.
The stories included in this volume are meticulously wrought, sincere tales of real life. With all of its sadness, joy, struggles, and achievements, they are above all, honest. They make the commonplace seem magical. They make the reader cry, laugh, and feel connected to their fellow humans in a way that makes fiction shine.
Here are stories of love, marriage, parenthood, loneliness, despair, angst, and compassion. The characters depicted are so vividly described that you feel you have known them for a long time.
“This was how it was, she thought. People would find one another, and sometimes it would last moments and sometimes it would last years.”
I purchased this book on the strength of my liking of her other work, and, I felt that this would be the perfect time to read it. Highly recommended! I believe it will be especially appreciated by fans of Maeve Binchy, Rosamund Pilcher, Kate Morton, and the like.
Rachel Joyce is the author of the international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Perfect and The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and has been translated into 34 languages. She is also the author of Perfect and a new novel for 2016, The Music Shop. She is the award-winning writer of over 30 original afternoon plays and classic adaptations for BBC Radio 4. Rachel Joyce lives with her family in Gloucestershire.