Sweet, charming, heart-warming, festive, scary…..and possibly delicious
Jeanette Winterson has here created a pretty perfect gift-wrapped 12 days of Christmas present. The wrapping is the beautiful presentation of the book, with its smart dark blue cloth cover, all decorated with stunning illustrations by Katie Scott, who has also provided the equally gorgeous patterned facing pages at the start of each chapter, not to mention manuscript style decorated letters to start the chapters, and tiny confetti style occasional type sized symbols – hearts, flowers, stars, a little dog. These are not random, but keep an eye out for them as you read, they are like little exclamations on the story you have been reading.
But, gorgeous as all this is, it just serves to enhance and package the delectable present of Winterson’s writing.
Soot Town had paid for the dinner, in honour of the day, and in charity towards the poor, parentless children who had taken shelter under Mrs Reckitt’s ample wings.
Had she been a bird it is unlikely that Mrs Reckitt could have flown far – or indeed flown at all – for in most respects Mrs Reckitt resembled a giant turkey. Not a wild turkey. No. A bred bronze bird with a substantial breast, a folded neck, a small head and legs……If in most respects the lady resembled the celebrated bird of the Christmas feast, in one singular respect she bore another resemblance.
Mrs Reckitt had the face of a crocodile. Her jaw was long, her mouth was wide. Large teeth lurked inside it
Twelve quite different stories, and all quite proper for the season itself, so we have the heartwarm of rewarded virtue, and celebration of love itself, in all sorts of different forms – whether of a poor child for a glorious snowman, which is, in fact, a magical and funny Snowmama, a bereft adult grieving for their dead lover, the nativity donkey touched by the birth of the Christchild, or a couple of looking-for-love New York lonely hearts. This is, after all, a symbolic time of change and new beginnings. There are proper Dickensian, type stories of wicked capital and the virtuous poor, and the wicked get the comeuppance they deserve. It is also a time more closely linked to pagan festivals, the shortest day, and the veil between the worlds of life and death.
So there ought to be dark stories, ghost stories, most frightening and powerful, to raise shivers in the reader. And, there are…some properly frightening ones.
It is the custom here that the husband provides the wedding dress; white, but with a small red stain placed where he chooses to mark the loss of a maidenhead. The maid came to dress me for the wedding. She wished me happiness and health.
‘Is he a good man, my husband?’ I asked as she fastened the dress tight.
‘He is a man’ she said. ‘The rest you must decide for yourself.’
I was dressed and I looked at myself in the silver mirror,. The maid had a vial of blood. ‘For the stain.’ She said
She dabbed the blood over my heart.
Just as well Winterson’s overall mood and desire is to bring cheer, and so she revives us with the other gift of Christmas – the festive connection of shared food and celebration.
There are 12 stories, the fictional inventions of Winterson’s imagination and writerly craft, and there are 12 recipes which have some link in memory to her past, and her present – things prepared by others for her, things prepared by her and others, things prepared by her – all part of festivities past and present.
I say possibly delicious because many of them are not vegetarian friendly, so I can only appreciate the lovely real stories she shares along with them, and some of them, particularly recipes from her childhood, might not be as appetising to a reader who doesn’t have a childhood memory to make them tasty (I was never a fan of tinned fruit salad!)
If I had to find one word to describe Jeanette Winterson’s Christmas pot-pourri, it would be that it is a kind one. And, kindness, surely is something which can sometimes seem in very short supply.
I was delighted to be offered this by Amazon Vine UK, and snapped it up eagerly. Alas, I intended to read just ONE story per day, but presented with a whole box of delectations and delights I ate/read one after the other. Delicious and satisfying and not an inch added to the waistline. Though, if I make the cheese straws (these I can eat), I might not be able to say that for much longer…………