Author: Rebecca Boxall
Christmas at the Vicarage; not so much a Christmas book as it is the story of Rosamunde Pemberton a woman who, despite not living in a fantasy book, is obviously cursed.
Seriously, no one is this unlucky, before we even hit the halfway point her mother is dead, her boyfriend is dead and the pregnancy he left her with has miscarried. It’s tragic, really tragic. By tragic I mean the joke kind, not the actual disastrous kind, Rosamunde just trips from one situation to another I’m half convinced she spends the time we don’t see her running through her house smashing mirrors and flinging salt around. Most books could be entirely about just one of the things that happen to her, but the author doesn’t seem to know how to write any kind of emotional responses, everything is just ‘sad’ then we move on. Seriously it takes her about five pages to recover from a miscarriage. I felt no sadness for what happened to her at any point because I can’t have any empathy with a cardboard cut-out.
This is the book’s biggest failing really, and it’s not exclusive to the “sad” moments either, everything is just stated. I’ll give a small example, early on Rosamunde and her friend are walking to the shops and the book just says ‘they argued about this [something silly, like the parking] the whole way’. This is just one example of many, why are we not privy to these conversations? We’re excluded from seeing how these characters interact, how they might tease each other or be overly sensitive. We’re told one characters supposed to be annoying but I never found him particularly irritating, it’s not enough to just tell a reader they should be annoyed. I genuinely knew nothing personal about anyone, I was always aware I was reading about someone, rather than experiencing their story.
This book also breaks one of the cardinal rules of fiction ‘Is this the most interesting point in the character’s life?’. I don’t think so. Rosamunde spends 15 years of her life travelling the world yet that’s just mentioned it passing in an anecdote about monkeys in Borneo, yet we’re stuck listening to “hilarious” village anecdotes about sheep being dying from poison, children vomiting rotten eggs and her father owning fishing equipment despite not knowing how to fish. Strange sense of humour…
Could I read the story about the monkeys instead, please?
The story’s told in two parts, one part Rosamunde’s present life at 40 and having returned from her travels and the other in the past explaining the tragic series of events that led her to travelling in the first place (we sadly never get the story that intersects these two moments in time). If asked to pick the better story I’d say the past is superior to the present, if only by virtue of actually having a point to the whole thing, and being free of random sheep death. But I still wouldn’t recommend it.
Like all that isn’t enough, Boxall seems to have a really weird view of gay people. One of the “hilarious” stories we’re subjected to is that a lesbian couple is going to play Mary and Joseph, it’s a bit unorthodox, yes, but I don’t get the joke, I just think it’s a nice thing. I was genuinely convinced through most of the book that one main ‘gay’ character was going to be “cured” by the end – I will give the author credit and say she doesn’t go that far, but what does end up happening is only a few shades less insulting. If you still aren’t convinced, I’ll just lift a quote quickly; “Are you sure you’re not gay?… I mean, for a start, you like shopping!”. Is this a joke? I honestly can’t tell. I must say it didn’t read like one. How dated is the idea that men can enjoy shopping without also enjoying bratwurst?
If you’re still determined to read this book, go ahead, I can admit it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read. But I would certainly not recommend it.