Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Comfort and Joy

on December 21, 2011

This the second of my two reviews about my recent Audible downloads.  I downloaded India Knight’s Comfort and Joy as I was ill, bored, had no books as I’d put off buying anything ahead of my birthday, and wanted something Christmassy.  I have to say it wasn’t my first choice – I was looking for Trisha Ashley’s The Magic of Christmas or Miranda Dickinson’s It Started with a Kiss, but they didn’t have them, and I’d read good reviews about this one so decided to take the plunge.

I didn’t like it – I’ll admit that up front.  (I should also admit now that I haven’t finished it, and don’t know whether or not I shall).  Maybe because it wasn’t my first choice, maybe because I hadn’t read My Life on a Plate, to which, it turns out, this is the sequel.  Maybe because I was ill and got confused about the fact that the time of the narrative leaps ahead a year a short way into the book.  (I don’t know if that was supposed to be a surprise or not, so sorry if that’s an unintentional spoiler).  The start was fairly interesting – central character (Clara) is Christmas shopping, discussing her extended family and how difficult it is to buy presents for them, decides to go for a coffee and then changes her mind to go for a drink in a hotel, because it’s Christmas and it would be nice not to have to sit squashed up with all her coat and shopping while she tries to enjoy her break.  In the hotel she meets a man with whom she’s obliged to share a table because it’s busy.  She’s taken aback because he’s the most handsome man she’s every seen, and feels embarrassed at her reaction when she’s a grown-up, twice-married mother of three. I liked it up to this point, because it seemed I was getting to know her – I liked her descriptions of the shopping trials and the idea of going for a “grown-up” drink, on her own, as a treat.  I even liked the part when she gets home afterwards, although her husband is a bit grumpy and she’s a bit stressed and I wondered why she was asking herself if it was the beginning of the end, rather than trying to sort out the problems while they were still minor.  I quite liked the description of the dinner party she hosts in the evening, the differences of opinion amongst the guests over how little girls should be raised, and whilst I wouldn’t say I enjoyed reading about the sleep-deprived neighbours – he drinking too much and eyeing up the well-endowed female guest next to him, she anxious and tired and eventually making a stand to her husband about needing some help, only to back down and leave alone to relieve the babysitter – but it was well portrayed and interesting.

After that it all got confusing.  It was somewhere around her that the mysterious time-shift occurred and they all began celebrating the following year’s Christmas.  By this time Clara and her husband Sam have addressed the problems in the marriage by splitting up.  She’s dealing with it well and has begun a new relationship, he’s not and things are rather awkward when he comes round to spend the traditional extended-family and ex-family Christmas Day celebration.  I felt betrayed, in a way, as if Clara had been a friend who I’d thought was letting me into her confidence, but was actually keeping all sorts of things from me.  From this point, as well as being slightly confused, I liked the story less and less.  It made me want to tell the characters to get a grip and sort their lives out, but in a bored, irritated way, rather than an impassioned, excited one.  The plot got bogged down in minor details like children’s baths – I realise the point of that episode was to stress Sam’s awkwardness in a family situation that a year ago he’d have fit into, but there was a lot of conversation that for me was unnecessary.  It reminded me of passages from my own fiction writing which I’ve been particularly unhappy with, where the characters get into an irrelevant conversation I can’t get out of.  I also felt incredibly awkward myself at the closeness to Knight’s own family situation.  I don’t know how autobiographical it’s supposed to be, and I did hear that all her family were fine with it, but it made me feel very uncomfortable that I was party to things I shouldn’t know.  I seriously hope the friend with all the relationship issues is made up.  I’m sure there are people like that, but to think she was actually describing someone she knew would be too sad.

I recovered soon after that and didn’t have as much time to carry on with it, but if I’d wanted to I’d have made time, so obviously it wasn’t something I was desperate to do.  Perhaps if that were closer to my own experience of life, or my friends’, I’d have got on better with it, but this is not a life I understand, or particularly want to.  It was also not very Christmassy, unlike some of the descriptions would have had me believe.  I don’t care how realistic it is – if I read a Christmassy novel I want it to be magical and enchanting, with a guaranteed happy ending.  If I want a gritty, miserable, confusing Christmas, I’ll watch Eastenders, thanks.  Of course, I haven’t finished this novel, so it might all end happily.  But somehow, I bet it doesn’t.

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