A Snow Garden & other stories by Rachel Joyce

This collection of six short stories was a welcome gift at Christmas and how appropriate the timing has turned out to be. Published in 2015, it consists of a series of short stories all set over the period from Christmas Eve to New Years Eve. Each story contains a link to a previous one, whether it be the sighting of a character, a painting of a young girl in a red coat in the snow or a christmas card. Rachel Joyce explains in her foreword, that she has chosen to write about characters who she had written and then mostly cut from her previous books. 

Each of the stories gives us an insight into the lives of the characters at this sometimes difficult but festive time of year. The simplicity of the writing style is perfect in conveying the idiosyncracies of these ordinary people and there is humour to be found in even the most desperate of situations.There is a poignant quality to each of the stories. I particularly enjoyed Christmas Day at the Airport which deals with the birth of a baby in an echo of the Nativity story.

Although we only see the characters for a short snapshot at a crucial time of their lives, the way in which the stories link together makes you feel that they are real people who are continuing to exist in the background. Each one gets the spotlight for a brief period of time. I especially liked meeting Maureen again. Maureen is married to Harold Fry in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Here we see her in 1962 when she first meets Harold at a local dance.

The most satisfying aspect was the feeling that the stories came full circle. The first story, A Faraway Smell of Lemon, deals with Binny, a young mother at a crisis in her relationship with Oliver on Christmas Eve. In Trees, the final story, we meet Oliver at New Year and peep into the future. There is something uplifting about each of the stories, as you catch a glimpse of her characters. The relationship between the reader as observer of unremarked connections between people is summed up eloquently by the author herself:

We are always at the centre of our own stories. And sometimes it is hard to believe that we are not at the centre of other people's But I love the truth that you can walk past a person, with your own story, your own life, so big in your mind and at the same time be a simple passer-by in someone else's. A walk - on part.

In short: The quality of the writing rings through each story. An uplifting, if poignant read.

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