Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Back Reviews Reel: December 2013

Admittedly, it might already be a little late for a look back on my Christmassy reviews that closed the blogging year 2013. On the other hand, maybe you haven’t yet decided what to read during the upcoming holidays or you still need a suitable present for this one friend of yours whom you always forget with all that is on your mind at this time of year. The two English-language novels – one classic, one contemporary – in my review archives of December 2013 should be easy enough to find, while the third book that an expatriate Austrian wrote in English during World War II has been out of print ever since its first and only edition of 1941. My fourth read for the end of the year was the translation of a Spanish novel from 1994 and I have no idea if it’s still to be found anywhere except the library, a second-hand bookshop or a flee market.

- - - - - Christmas Holiday by William Somerset Maugham twenty-three-year-old Charley Mason passes the end of the year 1938 in Paris. There he meets up with Simon, his only friend from high school, whom he finds even more callous, cynical and unscrupulous than he used to be when he last saw him. In a posh night club Simon introduces shy and naïve Charley to the Russian émigré Lydia commonly known as “Princess Olga” who like all other girls there entertains well-to-do clients in baggy trousers, with a small turban on her head and naked from the thighs upwards. She intrigues him and he passes the rest of his holidays with the prostitute from good house learning her sad story and realising for the first time that life isn’t a bed of roses for everyone.
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- - - - - short story The Christmas Carp by Vicki Baum surrounds the well-to-do Lanner family living in Vienna in the years before World War II. Ever since the children Friedel, Annie and Hans were small, the weeks before Christmas have been busy with preparations for an idyllic family Christmas with a beautifully decorated tree, a table laden with presents and heaps of savoury biscuits. One of the highlights of Christmas Eve uses to be the carefully chosen carp that they always buy from the Jewish fishmonger whose carps are the best and most beautiful in all Vienna. But with World War II comes penury and the Jewish fishmonger does well to hide. Still the family manages to buy a carp from him although too early for the feast so they have to keep it in the bathtub for nearly two weeks...
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- - - - - is over and Luther and Nora Krank from Skipping Christmas by John Grisham become painfully aware that during the coming holidays they will be alone for the first time in over twenty years because their daughter has just left for Peru to work there for the Peace Corps for two years. On their way back home from the airport, they stop at their grocery shop and Luther has to dive through a crowd already affected by the usual Christmas buying frenzy that he loathes. Thinking things over later, he decides that it would be less expensive and more relaxing to simply skip Christmas for a change and to make a sea cruise instead. Nora only reluctantly gives in to the plan, but as it turns out to break with tradition is easier said than done.
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- - - - - most of his life Leonardo Villalba Scribner has felt under the spell of The Snow Queen from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale and from the original Spanish title of The Farewell Angel by Carmen Martín Gaite. Like Kai he doesn’t experience deep emotions and his disposition to drift off into an imaginary world without warning accounts for many memory lapses. For several years he has been drifting carelessly through life well provided for by his wealthy parents. However, when they die in a car accident in the late 1970s, he is forced to take life into his hands or drown. To sort things out, he retreats to the Quinta Blanca of his late grandmother where he passed much of his childhood and with the help of the new owner he reveals the past, discovers reality and finds himself.

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  1. Nice selection. I read Skipping Christmas and liked the humor.
    I think my favorite Christmas read was Mr Ive's Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos; sad but meaningful to me.

    1. I must admit that Skipping Christmas was almost too light and "too mainstream" for me, but it's certainly true that it brims over with funny incidents. In a nutshell: it's an entertaining read for a lazy day.

      Thanks for the link to your review of Mr. Ive's Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos. I never heard of book or author...


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