Dec. Buddy Reads: a classic Christmas tale contrasted with a contemporary Christmas family story
For the holiday season, Donna and I selected two Christmas reads: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan. An old classic and a contemporary holiday story should be an interesting contrast!
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
Genre: Classic, Fantasy
Published 1843, 104 pages
"I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round - apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that - as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave."
Even though we all know this story, I'd never actually READ it - it's had a million movies and TV adaptations produced. You know, it's a bit hard to rate or review such a classic. I found that I enjoyed the language style and didn't find it off-putting like I often do with books of this era. The book is more minutely descriptive than a visual adaptation can be.....Dickens spent a whole page rhapsodizing about fruit!
During the visit of the second spirit, Scrooge is taken to a party given by his nephew and sees the group of young people having fun and playing games. He sees,
"....that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor. When Scrooge's nephew laughed in this way: holding his sides, rolling his head, and twisting his face into the most extravagant contortions: Scrooge's niece, by marriage, laughed as heartily as he. And their assembled friends being not a bit behindhand, roared out, lustily."
Sounds like a party any of us would like to go to! As we all know, Scrooge's transformation was complete after being visited by the third spirit and shown the grim realities of his own death, with no one around to mourn him. My memory is that all the movie/TV adaptations end just as the book ends, "As Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One."
The edition I read was illustrated by Zdenko Basic in a steampunk style and it was surprisingly delightful. I found myself as engrossed in the art as I was in the story - it's a pretty edition if you can find it.
photo by Terrie Purkey
Like Terrie, I had not read this classic and I also enjoyed it.
When the first ghost appears before Scrooge (his recently deceased partner Jacob) Scrooge tells the ghost that he doesn't believe he's real and makes a joke about it. "The truth is that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping down his terror; for the specter's voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones." The ghost goes on to tell Scrooge that he is there to warn him that he can escape Jacob's fate:
"You will be haunted by Three Spirits." Scrooge's countenance fell almost as low as the Ghost's had done. "Is that the chance and hope you mentioned, Jacob?" he demanded, in a faltering voice. "It is." "I - I think I'd rather not," said Scrooge.
This exchange made me chuckle as it is exactly how I would feel upon being told that I would be haunted!
Then, when Jacob leaves Scrooge floating away through a window, he could hear:
"...confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self accusatory. The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power forever."
I actually liked how all the characters were portrayed - Scrooge, the three ghosts, Mr. Cratchit and his family. For how short this novella is you still get a true sense of the character of these individuals. I'm no Scrooge about Christmas or anything else, I'm certainly not mean or miserly like Scrooge; however, by the end of the book I wanted to be a nicer person!
The Christmas Sisters, Sarah Morgan
Genre: General Fiction
Published 2018, 416 pages
At a young age, sisters Hannah, Beth, and Posy (the youngest doesn't remember her parents) lose both their parents to a tragic accident and are taken in by their aunt Suzanne and her husband Stewart who move the family to the Scottish Highland, his homeland. The parents' deaths have long-reaching effects on each of their lives.
Looking online I saw a lot of 5-star reviews for this book. I was not as taken with it as most seemed to be. As I don’t care for romance novels, there was a bit too much romance for me between covering the loving marriage of Suzanne and Stewart, the newly troubled marriage of Beth and Jason, and the budding romances of Posy and Hannah. Both Posy and Hannah had trouble committing to a relationship; they were both scared of love and intimacy.
You definitely got to know the characters well but much of it was repetitious, especially toward the end of the book. Beth’s constant reiteration that she needed to work got boring and her willingness to work for her prior boss Corinna, a truly awful person, was baffling. She was so fixated on working again that she was willing to bury her memories of Corinna’s past treatment of her – even though everyone in her family kept reminding her just how awful Corinna was. I got bored with how often that was stated. I felt the girls’ character traits were hammered at, their feelings repeated, and the same thought would be stated in a different way. And, ALL of the men were so loving, understanding, and patient with the women. Really?!
The plentiful descriptions of the Highlands really set a winter scene.
“There was a short, circular walk that meandered around the edge of the water. In summer, there were nesting birds and brown trout. Now, in winter, the loch had a glassy stillness and an icy calm. Beyond them, the forest stretched like Narnia, the trees weighted by snow, merging with the snowy peaks behind.”
Suzanne: “…there were so few occasions when the whole family was together that she wanted to make the most of it. And anyway, they were the ones doing all the work, trying to coordinate their movements like a synchronized swimming team who had never met before and couldn’t find their rhythm.”
When Posy, who hasn’t left home and plans to take over the family business, tells Suzanne that she might want to travel, Suzanne responds:
“If there are things you want to do, you should do them. Climb Denali. Travel with Luke. Take risks. Have adventures. Look forward and leave regrets behind. I don’t ever want you to wonder if you should have done something, or could have done something. Go and do it. Live a full life.”
I did enjoy the descriptions of the family store run by Suzanne and Posy – the food and drinks served, the local crafts made and sold. Overall this was just an okay read for me.
As Donna and I perused potential picks for our second holiday read, this book came up on several different lists, so that tipped the scale in its favor. As Donna outlined above, the plot follows a fairly traditional path by describing each VERY different sister's personality and current dilemma. Each has devised their own way of dealing with the death of their parents and it's interesting how that has determined the type of adult they are.
Hannah, the oldest, the focused, driven, business woman is a reader and used books to retreat from a father that she felt she couldn't please. She was frequently told,
" 'You're so damn serious Hannah. Lift your head out of a book for five minutes and have some fun.' Even now there were days when she felt guilty for picking up a book, unable to shake the feeling that there was something more valuable she should be doing with her time."
What we say and model to our children can have such far-reaching effects - if you want to raise readers, allow them the space and time to enjoy reading at their own pace. (off my soap box now)
Middle sister Beth, a self described girly-girl and mother of two little girls, is so overly protective of her kids it makes me crazy! Her younger sister gave her some sound, invaluable advice. Could she take it?
"I'm saying that being a good mom isn't just about protecting your kids from hurt, it's about showing them how to cope with hurt. It's about teaching them resilience and giving them the tools to handle whatever comes their way."
The youngest sister, Posy, is an outdoorsy mountain climber who puts great value on her family relationships.
"Family was everything to Posy. It was a warm blanket on a cold day, a safety net when you fell, a chorus of support when you attempted something hard."
As these stories always do, all differences and misunderstandings are resolved, all hurts talked out, and the sisters, husbands, boyfriends, parents, all are ready to face the challenges of the new year, stronger in their knowledge that their family loves and supports them. I liked the distinct personality each sister was given and there's plenty of family history to explain the reason for each of their quirks. It was easy to like them though I tended to favor Posy (she seemed the most well-balanced).
Although I do agree with Donna that certain themes were hammered home a bit too often, if you enjoy a good family drama, this will likely check all your boxes. And the fact that it's set in Scotland at Christmas is just icing on the cake.
photos by Terrie Purkey, Seattle winter, my Christmas tree