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A Snow Garden and Other Stories by Rachel Joyce (2016-11-03) Paperback – 1835
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Top Customer Reviews
I was mildly disappointed with the stories, which seem hastily patched together, with contrived melodramas thrown in for good measure in an attempt to sprinkle some Christmas magic of hope and reconciliation. Case in point would be the first story "A Faraway Smell of Lemons", that attempted to suggest a clumsy connection between the industry of household cleaning with catharsis. A couple's attempt to assemble a bicycle for their son from a box of unnamed parts without a manual unleashes bottled up feelings and unresolved issues in the tad-too-obviously named "The Marriage Manual", which reminded me of the brilliance of Joyce's debut novel "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of a Harold Fry". The latter dealt with much of the same issues, but with such starkly contrasting results.
The rest of the stories plod along in much the same fashion. Sheepish, guilt-ridden parents and bratty, disappointed offspring feature quite a bit in this caricaturist cast of characters (some of them with walk-on bits in Joyce's far superior novels and who fared better in those bit roles than with the full glare of attention on their unspectacular selves). By the end of the collection, after a failed actor and his estranged father plant trees in various locations to signify the giving of life in "Trees", and the said actor drives past clusters of characters from the previous stories on New Year's Eve, basking in the glow of sudden insight, and one of them actually waves back at him, it confirmed for me that the writing has sunk to the levels of a second-rate straight-to-video Christmas movie special.
‘A Snow Garden and Short Stories’ is definitely a festive must read. It’s so unlike any other Christmas books I’ve ever read. There are seven stories included and each and one of them is so special and magical and nothing like the festive stories I’ve read so far. Unlike most Christmas, that are fluffy and cheery, ‘A Snow Garden and Other Stories’ brings seven stories that are so memorable and poignant. The characters felt so real I thought they’d jump off the pages.
The stories are short yet amazingly complex and each one of them brings a huge message about life, family and love. And of course, all happen during Christmas and you can absolutely feel the Christmas spirit and that Christmas magic. The stories are full of clever symbolism, speaking about big life truths and making you think about your own life and the choices you make. I especially loved the first story, ‘A Faraway Smell of Lemon’ which got me crying big ugly tears. I found the story so emotional and heart breaking, I had tears rolling down my face while I imagined poor Binny and everything she’s going through.
What I also loved is how clever they were all connected. Some of the characters who had their own story, would even for just briefly appear in the next one, entwining these stories into one beautiful and unique fictional world. I also loved the mysterious girl in red coat which appears in every story, either on a commercial, or a banner or in the garden.
As these are short stories, they can’t be reviewed like a proper length novel and I won’t be able to tell you much about the plot as there would be spoilers. But what I will tell you is that it’s definitely a book you should all read. It’s truly a little gem you can not just read over Christmas, but go back to it whenever you feel down and overwhelmed by life. Whenever you feel disappointed, you can grab this little book and read any of the seven stories, and I guarantee you, you will be better and feel more energized after reading. The stories are sad, but at the same time very uplifting and best of all, they are so inspirational. Ms Joyce has a knack for creating amazing fictional worlds in which you feel at home. I was breathing and feeling together with Binny and Oliver, Alan and Alice, Magda and Johanna and all the other brilliant characters, learning some valuable lessons about life, family, marriage and the small everyday things which people sometimes take for granted.
Amazing collection of short stories from the pen of an amazingly talented writer, ‘A Snow Garden and other Stories’ is a book I recommend to everyone. I devoured it in one sitting and I was so sad to say good bye to all the amazing characters. Fascinating characters, clever writing and thought provoking stories, this book has everything every reader loves. Step into the magical snow garden, and enjoy!
Maybe Joyce's forte does not lie in writing short stories, because a lot of them felt contrived, unrealistic, and abrupt. There were no explanation to fantastical things, there was no depth to the characters, and we didn't have enough time to become invested in any of the stories.
The only two I did enjoy were The Boxing Day Ball, which recounted how Maureen had first met Harold Fry and that did leave me feeling all fuzzy inside but unsatisfied. I wanted to read more. I wanted to know more about how Maureen and Harold met. I wanted to see them fall in love. It also made me feel sad, knowing how things had disintegrated with them in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
The other story I enjoyed was the title story, A Snow Garden. A sweet tale of a divorced parent left with his two kids and trying to give them what they want and manage their expectations at the same time - given that they really aren't expecting anything! A bit of magical realism in there, but Joyce actually gives us a decent explanation to go with it which leaves the reader satisfied.
The rest of the stories I would easily just skip.