December is probably always my worst month for reading. This year is better because I’ve been a better reader all year. That doesn’t mean I’m at the top of my game though. I’ve been reading Nothing Last Forever since the start of the month and it’s taking me ages. I’ve had to pick some quick reads to make sure I have something to write about. Last week’s The Letters of Father Christmas was one and today’s Festive Spirits is another. What I have managed to achieve this year is sticking to Christmassy reads. I normally try and theme my reading but have never normally managed it. It feels good to be reading appropriate books for a change. Every other December I’ve been madly trying to finish the book I started in October or November and haven’t bothered to get through yet. I’m also normally still a fair way from my reading goal but I’ve already beaten it twice this year. Maybe I’ve finally become a proper adult? Well, it only took 31 years.
Festive Spirits by Kate Atkinson is a collection of 3 short stories. As the title suggests, all of them are related to Christmas in some way. Now, I’ve not read anything by Kate Atkinson before but she’s one of those writers who is always recommended to me. I decided that this beautiful collection was a great place to start and I managed to get through it in a couple of hours. The collection is split into 3 separate tales. The first is about a couple and their three young children. Lucy has had her hands full with 2 boisterous girls and is overjoyed that her latest child, a boy, is so calm in comparison. Yet, she finds herself brimming with motherly love as she watches them in their nativity. The second story sees a middle-aged couple sitting down to dinner. Sarah, or Sally, is a QC and her husband is a politician. Their marriage is an unhappy one but they put up with it for their mutual benefit. The final story is about Gerald, a man who lives alone with his dog. When his mother decides to go off for a cruise over Christmas, Gerald faces a holiday with only his childhood friend, Colin, for company. He looks back over his past relationship and wonders how different his life could be.
What I loved about these stories were that, though they were still full of the usual festive stuff, it felt as though they were about real people. It’s nice to see mothers who don’t see their children as perfect, the older couple with the imperfect public marriage, and the man who is accepting the positives in his lonely life. This isn’t the normal and boring saccharine tales that we’re used to at this time of year. There is humanity within them and I really loved it. I just wish there had been more of them.
Although, I have to say that my least favourite was the middle story. There was nothing wrong with it as a complete tale but, as part of this collection, it felt like it was out of place. The ending was just too different from the rest of the stories. I like the open-ended way the story came to an end but it kind of jarred with the realism of the stories either side of it. I think the last story is my favourite because of the overall message of it. It’s by far the saddest story of all but it leaves with a true message of Christmas. One about finding joy in what you have and realising how lucky you are. It feels very Christmassy and real. Though, the first story is also sweet as we see a young mother watch her children in their nativity. As I said, there is a lot of humanity in this small collection.
Yes, as a short story collection, you don’t get a lot of depth but there are some great observations here. These stories won’t take long to read but there is enough there to keep you satisfied. The writing is fairly simplistic but that really fits for this collection. These are stories non-traditional holiday stories that give hope. They are stories about finding joy, and love in the little everyday things. Really, these are great tales for society at this time. Life isn’t perfect or wonderful but we should find ways to be happy. Take matters back into our own hands and be responsible for our own satisfaction.