Book: Comfort and Joy (NEW October 2011) by India Knight
Cheeky! The little book Comfort and Joy: A Novel just elbowed its way up in front of a stack of other books waiting to be reviewed. I could not resist the cheerful red cover festooned with Christmas lights and promising Christmas joy, so after reading a few more serious books, I picked it up, hoping for the best.
In moments, I was laughing out loud and within a few more moments, I knew I must share it with you in time for you to get copies for your own travel library and as gifts for all your female BFFs–before the Christmas rush sets in. Because if there is one thing women need in the midst of holiday madness, it is some relief from the performance pressure.
Author India Knight’s main character, Clara (whom Knight says closely resembles herself), thinks as she is doing her last-minute shopping,
It’s about love, and family, and, like I said, redemption. If I didn’t want to run the risk of sounding like the king of the wankers, I’d say Christmas was about hope. Yeah. Hope. And optimism. It’s like the fairy tales in the window: for families, every Christmas is a new opportunity for Happy Ever After. [And then she adds, to herself,] “No pressure, then.”
Right. No pressure. Clara, a 40-year-old writer and mum, shares three consecutive Christmases (or Christmi, as her sister says) with us. She feels personally responsible for creating a magical holiday experience for her extended family–and, one suspects–frantic to live up to her own fantasy Christmas joy. That 40-yr-old part bothers her when she sees an attractive man and realizes she is wearing tights (and flesh-colored Pants of Steel)–not see-through stockings.
The problem is, I wasn’t always a person of the flesh-colored pants variety. There was a time, many centuries ago, when triceratopses frolicked playfully across the plains with diplodocuses, when I was acquainted with the woman in the stockings…..Happily for me I don’t find that many people attractive, plus my propensity for bad behavior has been napalmed into extinction by years and years of marriage, children, supermarkets, laundry, bills, school, work, all of that stuff.
So she gets back to searching for the perfect present and cooking and decorating herself into a tizzy for her children, her ex-husbands, in-laws, sisters and their families, a best friend and her mother–who is a dead ringer for Auntie Mame. Her daughters call her Kate–never Mum.
Part of the fun for an American reading this books is the introduction of a very English family and their Christmas culture–not terribly unlike our own, since we stole most of it once the Puritans loosened up. On the one hand, the story is all familiar–the musings on relations between the sexes and the family dynamics. On the other hand, there are those distinctly English bits like the class consciousness and a relentless cuteness in talking about bodily functions, and there are a few English usages that take some getting used to. You need to learn the difference between liking someone and fancying someone, for instance.
Despite the fact that from time to time I felt left out by mentions of brands or store names I didn’t know and TV shows that have not made it to the U.S. via public TV–I totally got it. Like, for instance, although we might not say “bits and bobs” when describing the last-minute gifts we are buying, it makes perfect sense.
The book starts in this headlong rush in crowded Oxford street on 23 December 2009, as Clara shops for the bits and bobs and ponders why pigeons walk beside her instead of flying. The head long rush rarely lets up.
The book, of course, is not really about Christmas joy. Christmas is just the setting. It is about relationships. Here’s Clara, describing her husband and contemplating how the hot blood of a romance cools with the arrival of children and duty.
He’s fit, in both senses. He is extremely attractive. But you see, even with that–I lie in bed and watch him getting dressed and I think, “He’s extremely attractive,” but I think it like one might think, “He’s a sweet dog,” or, “I really like what the Browns have done to their spare room,” It’s become objective. I would prefer it if I had the thought and then felt compelled to remove his pants with my teeth.
Nothing of the 21st century life escapes skewering here–child rearing theories, trendy foods, conspicuous consumption, political correctness, Facebook, texting. (Clara loves “the attractive man” because he uses punctuation in a text message. As in, Happy Christmas, Clara.)
But if this is a sociological study, enroll me in sociology. I haven’t had this much fun in years.
The publisher, Penguin Books, sent me a review copy, and while I appreciate the opportunity, they know that does not guarantee a good review. In this case, I REALLY hope that you will buy a few copies, and as usual, would be extra happy if you are shopping at Amazon, if you’d get there by clicking on a link from A Traveler’s Library. That way, although it costs you no more, I earn a few cents to keep the blog going. And thanks to the Flickr photographers who make their photos available through Creative Commons for these shots of London.
You can follow India Knight on Twitter @indiaknight
How do you get through the frictions and bits and bobs of Christmas? Are you the keeper of the flame in your family?