|From The British Library|
1. Five Carols
These are short stories set at Christmas. The first, 'Missing the Midnight' is from the point of view of a girl who has just dropped out of university coming home on Christmas Eve. 'The Zoo At Christmas' follows a group of animals as they leave the zoo to go to midnight mass. The others are 'Old Filth', about a retired lawyer at home alone on Christmas after his wife has passed away - this character was later the focus of a novel of the same name, 'Miss Misteltoe', about a woman considered a parasite by the people who always have her to dinner at Christmas, and finally 'Christmas Island', a strange story about creatures born to humans who devour the world.
2. Five Grotesques
These are quirky, fairytale-like stories and I enjoyed this section the most. 'Grace' is about a man with a diamond in the back of his neck and 'Light' is set in the Himalayas and tells the story of a girl with no eyes in the front of her head but one in her throat. 'The Girl With The Golden Ears' follows the attempts of fashion editor Eglantine Fosche-Grille to get rid of the golden hair that has started to grow from her ears, whilst 'The Boy Who Turned Into A Bike' is about a bike fanatic called Clancy and Nancy, the woman he loves. This section concludes with 'The Pillow Goose', about two women who find themselves with a flock of geese prized for their feathers.
3. Two Hauntings
'Soul Mates' is a creepy story about a couple who meet another pair just like themselves on a retirement holiday, and 'The Green Man' is a short novella about the mythical figure. I didn't really 'get' either of these stories, the first was short enough for it not to matter but 'The Green Man' seemed to drag.
Some of these stories are quite strongly religious, and I did not enjoy that element of the collection because I am not religious myself. However, Gardam's characterisation is excellent and I enjoyed the stories because the characters were all so interesting even if I didn't like the morals some of them express. The stories I enjoyed the most are 'Miss Misteltoe', because it has a clever twist, 'Grace', 'Light' and 'The Boy Who Turned Into A Bike'. The middle section 'Five Grotesques' was definitely my favourite.
I think this book is best read at Christmas even if you are not a Christian - it can feel strange to read Christmas stories at any other time. It would make a nice Christmas gift for someone who likes books but you don't know very well - there should be something in here that most people will enjoy.
I probably won't read this again but it was a interesting and quick seasonal read.