We’ve got lots of snow over here right now, which is the perfect weather for Rachel Joyce’s short story collection A Snow Garden & other stories.
A Snow Garden features a woman having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit, two parents deconstructing their marriage on Christmas Eve, as well as a young woman giving birth at a crowded airport. There is a chance encounter at a Boxing Day Ball, two little boys spending the Christmas holidays with their divorced father, a superstar coming home for a belated Christmas party and an elderly father asking his son to plant trees on New Year’s Eve.
In seven loosely connected short stories, Rachel Joyce reintroduces well-known characters as well as new ones and shows us how they experience the time between Christmas and the New Year. Each story deals with interpersonal relationships on different levels and they all teach us that the time we spend with our loved ones is precious.
I guess which stories we find more memorable than others depends on our own experience in life. My personal favorites were the last two – “A Snow Garden” and “Trees”. Rachel Joyce did a great job depicting the difficult father-son relationships in these stories.
Overall, A Snow Garden & other stories is quick read for a cold, snowy winter weekend. I enjoyed this book much more than Perfect and Queenie.
Last week, I finished reading Rachel Joyce‘s latest novel The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy and I did this without having read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry first. Some advised me against doing so, while others said it would be perfectly okay to read Queenie on its own. As I got the chance to read Queenie in a Lovelybooks reader’s circle organized by Penguin Random House UK and I never was that interested in Harold’s story, I just skipped Harold Fry.
Queenie Hennessy has just moved into a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed when a farewell letter to her old friend Harold Fry makes him walk hundreds of miles to meet her one last time. Queenie starts to write another letter to tell him all the things left unsaid. She remembers the life she had and looks back on the beloved sea garden she built herself. In my opinion, Queenie’s description of the sea garden is the most powerful picture Rachel Joyce creates in the whole novel. The drawing in the back of the book doesn’t do it justice at all.
While Queenie is reserved towards the other residents at the hospice at first, she opens up to them after a while. She is, however, a rather bland person who seems to have given up on life as soon as Harold wasn’t part of it anymore. The real stars of this novel are Queenie’s fellow residents at the hospice. I particularly like Finty and Mr Henderson who couldn’t be more different. Finty has such a great sense of humor and Mr Henderson’s development throughout the book is wonderful to witness. The most memorable scenes in Queenie without doubt include the hilarious moments spent with the residents of the hospice.
The chapters I don’t like that much are the ones that comprise flashbacks to Queenie’s time spent working with Harold. They feel hollow, as if there is something missing. I suspect Rachel Joyce didn’t want to repeat herself by writing something she had already written in Harold Fry and so she just presented us with a very condensed version of the past events. I’m afraid that by doing this, she took the life out of Queenie’s encounters with Harold.
While the middle of The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy was truly gripping, the novel ended just the way it started out: a bit weak. Those who have read Harold Fry will probably love the additional information Queenie gives them. For me, the book would have been wonderful with a closer focus on Queenie’s weeks at the hospice. That would have been enough to keep me glued to the pages without dreading chapters on Harold Fry.
(3.5 magic beans)
P.S.: I’m experimenting with different review formats right now to see what suits me best. So please bear with me 🙂
Last week I received a review copy of Perfect by Rachel Joyce. Lovelybooks and RandomHouse UK (Doubleday) had another great cooperation (oh how I love them for these, I can’t say it enough) and I received the copy to participate in a Lovelybooks book discussion.
Summer, 1972: In the claustrophobic heat, eleven-year-old Byron and his friend begin ‘Operation Perfect’, a hapless mission to rescue Byron’s mother from impending crisis.
Winter, present day: As frost creeps across the moor, Jim cleans tables in the local café, a solitary figure struggling with OCD. His job is a relief from the rituals that govern his nights.
Little would seem to connect them except that two seconds can change everything.
And if your world can be shattered in an instant, can time also put it right?
Perfect is set in England in the 1970s and in the present. I really enjoyed how Rachel Joyce described different processes. Like for example the process of sugar cubes being dropped into cups of tea. She does that brilliantly.
The main characters are a boy called Byron and a man called Jim. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to connect that well with Byron. Maybe it also has to do with the storytelling. I’ll talk about that later on. I was however perfectly able to empathize with Jim. I was able to feel every single emotion he felt. And many of them weren’t that pleasant. So be aware that this book is only for people who aren’t depressed, because it will most probably make you feel depressed.
As I already mentioned above, Perfect features two main characters. There are two strings of storyline – one set in the 1970s and wrapping around Byron’s life, and one set in the present, telling us more about Jim. In my opinion Byron’s story, which seems to be the main plot, is really slow-paced. This might also have to do with it being written in past tense. More than once, I caught myself looking forward to another chapter about Jim. To me, Jim’s story seems much more lively, probably because it written in present tense and because it really is much more lively. There are things happening in Jim’s storyline, whereas a lot of Byron’s storyline is spent planning and waiting. I also missed a real climax in the book. As I mentioned before, I really liked how Ms. Joyce described processes. This is fine writing. Still, I was a little disappointed after all the praise I’ve read about Perfect. I’d recommend it to people who don’t mind a slow and depressing read.