Whenever I see light feathers of snow moving slowly down a window to make a white pillow on the sill, and hear the thin moan of wind through casement cracks in a room where a fireplace is singing with flames, I remember the Christmas when I was nine, and our house at Indian Willows.
The Christmas Card by Paul Theroux
We’re all home — from work & school — and it feels so good to be free of any obligations other than those we choose. No swimming, no ballet, no football, no rushing; just coffees with new neighbours & with old friends, cooking all of the delicious things that have become part of our family Christmas, and generally being in. Though the weather’s still mild, it’s turned wet & windy, and the winter solstice seems like the perfect time to stay close to home and close to one another. And, at long last, I bring you a Christmassy read.
I saw A Christmas Card in the Oxfam bookshop last week and picked it up, inspired by Kerry’s reading of Theroux’s London Snow. It’s a slim Puffin, 80 pages, first published in 1978, making it 37, just like me. And it was a total pleasure to read to my little audience of three, which is high praise because lately the three-year-old Pops prefers to play rather than listen to ‘boring chapper’ books. So a short, sweet chapter book with lots of tension and atmosphere proved just perfect.
Marcel, his little brother Louis and their parents get lost in a snow storm on their way to spend Christmas in a house in the woods. They stop to seek help in the only lighted house they can find, but when morning comes their mysterious host has disappeared leaving only a magical Christmas Card behind him. What follows is a story of light and darkness, faith and belief, and while the Christian message of Christmas is clearly there, Theroux’s fable also plays with the ideas of magic, mystery and creativity, so that an altogether more secular type of belief dances alongside the religion.
I also adore the real-life details in the book. The characters are named for Theroux’s own sons, Marcel and Louis and I’ve watched more than enough Louis Theroux programs to make that fun and amusing in itself. It’s the first time I’ve read Paul Theroux and his description and the delightfully eerie atmosphere he creates are just as brilliant as you might expect from a famous travel writer. But he doesn’t take himself too seriously here either. The father in the book is described as a traveller who has just returned from Asia, and though he tries to take his family on this Christmas adventure he quickly becomes angry, growling and shouting at his children (and snapping at the long-suffering Mother, who hardly features in the story) when the family get lost.
I’m going to be seeking out London Snow for next year too, but A Christmas Card is definitely a book that I hope my children will allow me to read to them again next December.
My comments were broken & I think I’ve fixed them, so please feel free to comment with abandon so that I’ll know for sure 🙂
And, Merry Christmas!