22/08/2006

Skipping Christmas (by John Grisham)

Hardly a seasonal book, nor is John Grisham an author I have previously read. I understand that his novels are primarily legal or political thrillers, and that's not a genre that appeals to me.

However 'Skipping Christmas' was on our shelves, and reviews suggested it was quite different from the author's usual style, being instead a mildly humorous family book. This turned out to be the case. It focuses on a caricatured American middle-class couple, Luther and Nora, whose only daughter has just gone abroad to work in the Peace Corps. Luther, an accountant, has calculated what vast sum they spent on the previous year's Christmas festivities, and Nora is feeling that Christmas will be depressing without their daughter.

So they decide to skip Christmas entirely, and spend some of the money on a cruise. The majority of the book is taken up with the bewilderment and anger this causes amongst their neighbours and colleagues. I found it both humorous and rather sad... do people really put enormous floodlit snowmen on their roofs, and then expect the entire street to follow suit? Do they insist on new dresses for business dinners? Can anybody really spend as much as $6000 simply on Christmas?

I assume not - and that it is, indeed, an exaggerated caricature. But it felt as if there was a grain of truth in much of the book: that consumerism really has destroyed the meaning of Christmas in some places. As such it felt almost like an Anne Tyler book at times, looking through the eyes of two people who felt more like her creations than any thriller heroes.

Enjoyable on the whole, a light and quick read, and a satisfying conclusion, albeit a little annoying.

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