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A belated round up of some short Christmas reads! πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸ“šπŸ“š

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Christmas 2021 seemed to come and go very quickly, although it was lovely while it lasted; and I did manage to squeeze in a few festive titles which I thought I would round up briefly in one post. One was an old favourite book, one a favourite author making a polemical point, and one a lovely gift I received – let’s take a look!

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

I might as well come straight out with it and say that this is one of my favourite, desert island books. I’ve read it so many times it’s ridiculous, and I’ll watch pretty much any adaptation of it (I’m even convinced by the Muppet Christmas Carol!) So during a particularly trying time over the festive period, I picked it up and re-read it in one sitting and loved it all over again. Unforgettable characters, wonderfully creepy ghosts, such a clever narrative and completely unputdownable. A nasty protagonist who gets redemption and a second chance – what’s not to love? I think I need to re-read this every Christmas!!

A Christmas Tree and a Wedding by Fyodor Dostoevsky (with spoilers!)

Still in the mood for something Christmassy, I saw this get a mention on Brona’s Books, and discovered that I have a copy in the nice chunky collection translated by Constance Garnett which I picked up recently. Truth be told, it’s not really that warm and cuddly (well, you wouldn’t expect that from Dostoevsky, would you?) The story opens with the narrator attending a Christmas party; something of an observer rather than a participant, he particularly notices a beautiful 11 year old girl who eschews the boisterous play of the rest of the children and goes off quietly to another room to play with her doll. However, she’s attracted the attention of an older business man (particularly as her family are rich) and in a toe-curling scene he follows her to the other room and attempts a mild kind of flirting. My skin crawled, I must admit, and even more so when five years later the narrator sees the young girl being married off to the same man in a society wedding. This is something which has come up before in Russian literature, and the famous painting “Unequal Marriage” by Vasili Pukirev (which I’ve mentioned before on the blog) exemplifies the issue. An uncomfortable and unsettling read, and evidence of Dostoevsky’s social concerns.

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

My final Christmassy read was a real treat in the form of a lovely gift from my blogging pal HeavenAli. A Christmas Memory is a beautiful little hardback collection of five stories by the great Truman Capote, none of which I’d read before, and they made the perfect companion to New Year’s Eve!

The five titles are A Christmas Memory, The Thanksgiving Visitor, One Christmas, Master Misery and Jug of Silver. The first three stories are autobiographical tales based on Capote’s childhood, with the young boy Buddy standing in for the author. Basically abandoned by his parents to live with relatives in the country, he had a strong bond with a much older cousin who he calls Miss Sook. Despite the vast difference in their ages, the two are mentally sympatico and very close; and two of the stories explore their Christmas rituals, the comfort she provides when he’s bullied and the deep love which exists between them. The third Christmas story tells of Buddy’s reaction to spending one holiday season with his father in New Orleans; the stark contrast to his normal life unsettles him, as do the glimpses of the adult world, but the book still ends on a moving note. All three stories are beautifully written, capturing so vividly Buddy’s life in the country which although hard, still seems idyllic to him, spending his time making and flying kites, and going off on adventures with Sook and their dog Queenie. The title story in particular is an American classic, and I can see why – it’s beautiful and poignant, and a reminder (if I needed it) of what a very great author Capote was.

The other two stories in the book are standalones; Master Misery is a strange and disturbing little tale of a young woman struggling to make a living in winter-time New York, who ends up selling her dreams to a mysterious man; it’s dark and intriguing with a very unsettling end. And Jug of Silver is set in the country again, where a kind of Christmas miracle takes place, and again Capote brilliantly captures his setting and characters. I loved the whole book – thank you Ali! 😊

So that’s it for Christmas reading for a while (or at least until December this year!) Three very different but all very interesting books, and I enjoyed them all in different ways. Now, it’s onward into the new year and some non-seasonal reading! πŸ˜€

Dickens in December: re-reading A Christmas Carol

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In this year of celebrating one of the country’s greatest novelists, Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Postcards from Asia are running a “Dickens in December” event and I have decided to join in by reading at least one of the great man’s works! Today is the day earmarked for a readalong of “A Christmas Carol”, probably his best-known book, and one I’ve read many times over the years – though not recently, I must say.

xmas vintage

I should confess up front that I have had to re-read this book before today as I this is my final day at work before the Christmas break and so finding any reading time today will be very unlikely (despite ACC being a short work!). I have a lovely new volume of ACC (plus other Christmas stories) in the Vintage set presented to me by my lovely OH earlier in the year, so this is the one I read.

There can’t be many people who don’t know the plot of “A Christmas Carol “- miserly old man is visited by ghosts and is redeemed and turned into a Good Human Being in time for Christmas. The story is ingrained in our collective consciousness – the name of Scrooge is now synonymous with meanness and the expression “Bah, Humbug!” was plastered over Christmas Santa hats when I went round town last weekend. So you might be forgiven for approaching this book with a slight sense of knowing the plot and wondering what the point of reading it again is.

Alistair Sim as Scrooge

Alistair Sim as Scrooge

Well, the joy of the language for one thing. From the opening sentence, Dickens draws you straight into the plot and writing is just wonderful. In a short work like this, Dickens’ wordplay is condensed to the essential and in some ways is all the better for it. He can paint a picture in a short paragraph that will stay with you and haunt you, appropriately enough.

What also impressed me about this work was the incredible amount that Dickens packs into his 100-odd pages. You get four main ghosts (and a host of others); misery and poverty; life stories; comments on the state of humanity; and at the end of it joy and redemption. It takes a real skill to get so much into a story which is so well told. As for the characters – well, there’s a beautiful cast and they come alive instantly. Scrooge and his late partner Marley, who are driven by business; Scrooge’s poor clerk Bob Cratchit and his happy but impoverished family, including poor frail Tiny Tim; Scrooge’s family including his nephew Fred; his first employers, the Fezziwigs; his lost love Belle – to name but a few. Yes, that many living and breathing amazing characters in such a slim novella – a sign of genius in my opinion.

And there are many messages embedded in the story about charity and meanness; the poverty and suffering in Victorian society, particularly among children; the curse of acquisitiveness; the joy and happiness that can be gained by having a family – but this never gets in the way of the plot. One of the most chilling parts is when The Ghost of Christmas Present reveals two emaciated children beneath his robes and declares that the boy is Ignorance and the girl is Want. Dickens was a crusader for social reform and the book reflects his deeply felt concerns without the story suffering.

Charles_Dickens_1858

This *is* the quintessential Christmas story and it would also be a fabulous introduction to Dickens for anyone who hasn’t read him yet and is a bit intimidated by the size of some of his books. I found this moving, scary and uplifting and I was knocked out by it after not reading it for many years. Thanks to the ladies for organising the readalong and getting me to revisit this one – I love it all over again!

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