For many people, Christmas preparations will have meant that precious little reading will have been done this past week. For me, however, the opposite is true. As we get ever closer to the 25th, keeping to my routine becomes more and more difficult and, as we approach the two week shutdown that seems latterly to have become accepted in the U.K., my tension levels rise daily. If you have Aspergers, Christmas is an absolute nightmare and now that I no longer have immediate family to consider my way of coping is to bury myself even deeper than usual in narrative in all its forms. Surviving the next two weeks will be dependent on having enough books, audio files and box sets to keep me so engrossed that I don’t notice how disrupted my world has become. So, this week I have read Anne Youngson’s Costa nominated Meet Me At The Museum as well as re-reading the two most recent episodes in Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series. When I am feeling unsettled for any reason returning to favourite characters is always a good strategy, I find.
I wrote on Wednesday about how much I was enjoying Meet Me At The Museum, which I thought was far better than some of the more scathing reviews I’d come across. As I finished it on Friday I saw no reason to change my mind. This epistolary novel charts the growing friendship between two people in middle age, one, Tina, a farmer’s wife from East Anglia and the other, Anders, a curator at a Danish museum which houses the peat preserved body of Tollund Man. For both, the correspondence opens up new ways of looking at the world and their letters become a conduit through which they explore their thoughts concerning the lives they have lived and are living now. How did each of them come to their present situation? Are their current modes of existence any longer sustainable? I found their ‘conversations’ made me think as well, especially about the importance of story and how, in one way or another, the stories a society tells about itself come to be acted out as ritual and in some instances as sacrifices. Tollund Man has almost certainly been one such sacrifice but, as Tina gradually comes to realise, she too has sacrificed the life she could have had to fulfil the role her own society expected her to play.
We should look inside ourselves for fulfilment. It is not fair to burden children or grandchildren with the obligation to make us whole
I went back to Jane Casey’s last two novels, After the Fire and Let the Dead Speak when I realised that we haven’t had a new Maeve Kerrigan book this year. I knew I was feeling deprived for some reason. For me, Casey is one of the very best crime fiction writers about at the moment. However, reading these back to back was interesting because I hadn’t realised until I did that that there are one or two gaps in the continuing story that runs under the individual crimes. This doesn’t diminish the separate novels in any way at all, but as a nosy reader I would like to know, for instance what happened when Chris Swain came up in court. Perhaps the two short stories we’ve been promised might fill in some of the gaps.
Then, last night I started on the books I’ve been keeping to one side precisely for this Christmas period. First on the list is Frances Brody’s most recent Kate Shackleton mystery, A Snapshot of Murder. I always enjoy these novels, mainly because they are set in a part of the country I know well. To follow this I have forthcoming books by James Oswald, Dervla McTiernan, Kate London and Helen Fields as well as recently published novels by Tana French and this year’s great discovery, Mike Craven. What I don’t have is a pre-publication copy of the new Ruth Galloway mystery. Elly Griffiths’ publishers usually offer this on NetGalley in time for the holiday, but this year not so. Never mind, it will be there to look forward to in February. What I will have for Christmas Day itself is the new Chronicle of St Mary’s short story, traditionally published for Kindle on the very day. Christmas simply wouldn’t be Christmas without the annual unsanctioned (if not entirely illegal) jump into the past by Max, Peterson and Markham. The Bears and I will read it over breakfast on Tuesday morning, knowing that, at the very least, a smile on all our faces is guaranteed.