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  • Celia Jenkins

BaBs - A Book Review. Christmas Days by Jeanette Winterson

To start of my 2017 Bits and Bobs, a review of a book I read over the Christmas holiday...

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I received this book as a Christmas present and started to read it immediately – I'd only read one other Winterson book before (The Daylight Gate), but I'd seen the BBC Television Series of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Consequently I watched a couple of interviews with Jeanette Winterson, who I found to be witty and highly intelligent, as well as having an interesting life history. I was keen to read more of her work and, despite being slightly unsure of the format of the book, I wanted to dive right in.

Twelve Christmassy stories, unconnected and of different genres (horror, children's, romance), with twelve festive recipes slotted between them. At a first glance, I wasn't sure. It seemed like a hodgepodge of different elements that I wasn't entirely sure would fit together. Also, what about the recipes? Should I just skip over them and then go back when I actually wanted to do some cooking? I was unconvinced. However, doing something that I very rarely do with books, I flipped to the back and read the author's note ('Christmas Greetings From The Author') before I'd read the book. I don't know why, but I'm ever so glad I did – reading that note reminded me just how much I liked Winterson's writing and how much I respected her as a writer. Remembering that, I was happy to dive in with this weird medley of genres and sink my teeth straight in.

First, the stories. I'm not a big reader of horror, at all. In fact, The Daylight Gate (which I read in 2013) was the first horror story I had read since I was a teenager, and I hadn't read any since. Seeing that several of the short stories in Christmas Days were spooky, I probably wouldn't have picked it up in a bookshop. But as it was bought for me as a gift, I didn't want it going unread, so I plunged in and read all the stories, even the scary ones (which were scary, but so bloomin' good!)

Out of the twelve, I would say that my favourites are pretty eclectic. I liked O'Brien's First Christmas (a whimsical romance story with a fantastical twist) just as much as I liked The Mistletoe Bride (a story which started out like a romance and soon turned spooky on me). I also liked A Ghost Story (a merging of two times in the same snowy setting) and The Glow-Heart (a sad story, but also a love story, and a jolly good one at that). What a mixed bag. Even with the high ratio of spine-shivering tales, I couldn't put it down.

As for the recipes, festive they are but 100% traditional they are not. Ok, quite a lot of them are fairly traditional Christmas fare (mince pies, sherry trifle, gravlax, mulled wine...) but among the quirkier 'Christmas' recipes are Chinese dumplings, cheese crispies and turkey biryani. I can't wait to try some of these out - though, being in Japan and therefore a long way away from most of the ingredients, it'll probably have to wait a while! Maybe until next Christmas...

Anyway, quirky recipes aside, I absolutely couldn't put this book down. Despite being terribly busy gallivanting all over Japan on a family holiday, I managed to unwrap this book on Christmas Day and finish it before New Year. Winterson is a literary genius and despite my being unconvinced about Christmas Days to begin with, I'm so glad I read it because it has reminded me that I really must read some of her other stuff – she's such a good writer. The nice thing about this book too is that it is really full of Winterson herself. Her stories are excellent, but the thing I like most about Jeanette Winterson is finding out about her unusual upbringing, reading about her unusual background and everything up until now that has made her such an extraordinary writer. Christmas Days is filled with such tales – little snippets of her past and little notes about people who have been meaningful in her life. Christmas Days is a lovely book, and particularly at Christmas. So if you want to get ahead for next year's present buying and purchase something super early...

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