My knowledge of Jeanette Winterson is limited to the fact that her book Oranges are not the Only Fruit was the first title in the iconic Virago green imprint and, to my shame, I have never read it. So when this title, Christmas Days 12 stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days, dropped through my letterbox I was not sure what to expect.
What I got was total and utter beguilement and enjoyment. It is a delightful mixture of stories, recipes and chat about friends at Christmas time. There is a lot of background on her childhood, which I had read about, and which sounded unremittingly awful though one senses from certain remarks in this book that she reached acceptance and forgiveness with her parents.
I can do no better than quote from the blurb inside the book: "Everybody loves a Christmas story...read these stories by the fire, in the snow, travelling home for the holidays, give them to friends, wrap them up for someone you love, read them aloud, read them alone, read them together. Enjoy the season of peace and goodwill, mystery and a little bit of magic"
Well, I read them alone, in the warm with a candle or two burning. I had put my Christmas cake in the oven, was feeling comfortable and settled and picked up this book. The juxtaposition of story, recipes and reality is what makes this book so fascinating. A delightful story about a modern twist on a Christmas Carol, when a couple whose relationship may be in trouble, find a child alone in the snow who is the Spirit of Christmas and through her, rediscover their love for each other, is then followed by a chat about the author's great friend, the crime writer Ruth Rendell who she used to spend Christmas with and who was a genius at pickling red cabbage. A page about how they spent their day is followed by the recipe.
We then have a ghost story or two and interspersed recipes for New York Custard, Mulled wine, Turkey Biryani, a creepy story The Mistletoe Bride with a wicked twist at the end, O'Brien's First Christmas about an Irish girl alone in the city at Christmas time and how a wish from the Christmas fairy transforms her mundane life and her job working in the pet department of a large store; a story about a wicked woman running an orphanage which sounds like something out of Oliver Twist and how the table are turned on her by a horde of silver frogs, yes that is right, frogs..
And at the end a classic Christmas story The Lion, the Unicorn and Me which is also available in a separate format I have to admit that I had a lump in my throat at the end of this particular part of the book.
"So at Christmas I think about the Christmas story and all the Christmas stories since. As a writer I know that we get along badly without space in our lives for imagination and reflection.....so light a candle to miracles, however unlikely and pray that you recognise yours...and light a candle to love"
A gorgeous heart warming book. Please go out and order it now and give as many copies as you can to friends and loved ones. They will thank you for it.
I am a bit of a misery when it comes to Christmas and find myself getting fed up and rather resentful of all the fuss but reading this today has made me feel, yes, happy.
And what more could you ask for from a book?
Oh and there is a recipe for her dad's Christmas trifle with its jelly and stale cake and custard and great blobs of cream on top which is SO like my mother's that I felt quite a pang of nostalgia!