A bit of festive cheer

Comfort and Joy
by India Knight

Some people might classify this as chicklit, not my usual genre, but as Dervla would say this time of year, this is no ordinary chicklit; this is chicklit that absolutely completely struck a chord with me. Plus, it’s Christmassy.

Clara is 40 and is scrambling around Oxford Street on 23 December to complete the perfect Christmas she has planned for her 16 guests, including her three children, husband and ex-husband. The book follows her through the ensuing mayhem of family, friends and Christmas.

Knight mercilessly mocks the middle-class boreishness. I mean, these people are London middle class, which is a whole separate sub-class of its own. They obsess over the provenance of their food (in fact, food in general) and PTA meetings and how to give their children everything without spoiling them. Clara herself is painfully aware that these are not issues most of the world has the luxury of worrying about and besides, she finds it boring. What happened to those youthful days of discussing politics?

There are some painfully real moments and Clara can be a little vicious in her own mind, but she loves the people around her and this shines through. Her sisters are particularly wonderful characters and their shared history and language are joyous to be part of.

I laughed out loud many a time but I also appreciated the main “lesson” that Clara learns – that your true family is the one that’s there for you, the people who “taught me to swim, and everything that that’s shorthand for” as she puts it. Broken marriages and jumbled extended families may be nothing new but I suspect there’s still a lot of people out there trying to negotiate the tricky waters of which parents, step-parents, half-brothers and ex-step-granddads they keep in touch with. It’s always nice to know that someone else is struggling with the same issue.

Knight has got right into the Christmas tradition by writing about Christmas past, present and future. I loved that touch, though the future Christmas was rather less bleak than Dickens’. If you’re not one for making a fuss about Christmas, this may not be the book for you. But I loved it. I stayed up far too late into the night to finish it and then felt a little sad that it was over so soon.

Merry Christmas and happy holiday reading!

Published 2010 by Penguin.