December 17th, 2011


Cheery reading 4: Lanterns Across the Snow

This book was my mother’s. I kept it because I hadn’t read it and especially because she’d written inside, ‘A favourite book’. Susan Hill’s short (seventy nine pages) story is told by Fanny, looking back to the Christmas when she was nine and her father rector of a country parish in Dorset. “There is no one else left who remembers.”

The delight of this book is in the detail; everything is lovingly described. The snow ‘like goose-down’, Fanny’s Christmas present of a muff ‘like being close to the warm body of some still-alive creature’, the ‘Christmas table with its snow-white cloth and twinkling glasses’. For my taste, Susan Hill overdoes this with constant repetitions of words: the curate’s ‘new, new wife’; the ‘wild, wild open place’; the 'orange, orange tangerine’. There are too many of these to count, along with expressions like, ‘Yes, oh yes’, ‘A happy Christmas to you! Oh, a happy Christmas!’ I found this irritating. (I’m now reading A Christmas Carol and notice that Dickens uses this device: "The grocers! Oh, the grocers!" but only once.) Lanterns Across the Snow is a charming description of a nineteenth century Christmas, which doesn’t neglect the less fortunate villagers. It would be perfect reading for Christmas Eve. On the other hand, for me it doesn’t beat the Christmas chapter in Alison Uttley’s The Country Child.