Author: Michael Hebler (http://www.michaelhebler.com/)
So I was lucky enough to pick up an advanced reading copy of this – note the word lucky, because it was quite a joy to read. The Ghost of Christmas Past is full of themes of miracles, cheer and human empathy and I really did feel that whole ‘wonder of Christmas’ radiating off it, however you do need to enjoy this book at Christmas time specifically, because I found myself with a burning desire to spread cheer and give to the Salvation Army – which most people consider weird behavior in mid-April.
Slightly depressing social observation aside, I really enjoyed the writing style of Christmas Past, it’s description heavy, which suits the story well and the frame of jumping from scene to scene facilitates a very rich narrative. The influence from its inspirational text is evident and it has that nice balance of being complex, but not so much so that you feel like an idiot (you know the books I mean.) For me it’s been a while since I read a description heavy book, and this was a great way to come back to it. I was only expecting to be met at the airport, not brought cake and balloons too, if you get my meaning.
This opinion, I admit, didn’t appear till Stave 2, Stave 1 is by far the weakest, and at the time I was getting a bit fed up with the set up. However, Christmas past plays the long game (in so far as a novella can play a ‘long game’) and everything you read has actual pay off rather than being the bad case of ‘author word vomit’ that I thought it might be. Don’t let that put you off in the slightest, it’s not even that long I just had a bad case of itchy trigger fingers at the time.
So now that I’ve gushed about the writing style let’s talk a little about what kind of ‘pay off’ we get from this book. Well, having both interviewed Michael and read his book I can now say without a doubt he is a ruthless tease – opening plot lines only to have characters infuriatingly choosing to put their hands over their ears and not hear any more, just as it’s getting interesting! I hate to use generic critic phrases but it really did make you turn pages – suspense and drive are done very well, so two ticks there.
I’m a sucker for emotional narratives though, and that’s what I’m really concerned with. To give you an idea this book occupies itself entirely with two intertwining stories, and the third narrative of the spirit. The spirits narrative is by far the strongest, being well balanced in emotion, the characters in it full of negative traits, and the Spirit became one of those fantastically three dimensional characters who I both cared for, annoyed me and I sometimes pitied. The other two stories are certainly not as awesome, I felt the characters were less fleshed out and there was much less moral ambiguity, more of a ‘big bad’ situation going on, but they did intertwine snugly and wrong foot me so I still enjoyed them, they were certainly not bad narratives. It’s the same problem I had with ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’, I enjoyed one part so much, despite the rest of the work being well above average it looked weak by comparison.
I feel like this review has been a bit of a mess, I’m writing this sat in a Berlin hostel and it’s not exactly conducive to eloquent thought. However, I like to think I’ve got my point across but in case I haven’t here’s a summary; this novella is a great little read, it does a lot of things right, put’s a lovely spin on an old tale while still keeping an identity of its own, and you should buy it for a snuggly winter read by the – well, not fire, don’t read it there…