Rachel Joyce's writing sneaks up on you. Just when you think you're reading a nice little story about a father spending Christmas week with his sons, or Magda and Johanna welcoming their new baby, or a popstar son ditching life on the road for the comforts of his parents' yuletide home, you suddenly finding yourself reaching for the Kleenex.
Joyce's writing is exquisite. Robust and unsentimental, real and magical. Her characters, with all their messy quirks and foibles, are the people you meet in the street and yet, somehow, they also gilded with magic - like the Ready Brek kids in those seventies ads.
She made her name with Perfect, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and its companion book The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy and this, it is fair to say, is a little filler book before her fourth novel The Music Shop comes out next year. But that's not to say it isn't a charming and engaging read.
There are seven stories, all of which all take place over a two-week Christmas break, and all of which are linked, either by the image of a girl in a red coat standing in snow, or friendships or even as strangers waving cheerfully in the street. There's a warm sense of community in the jumble of lives as each character steps forward to tell their tale. The last story bring us full circle and had me reaching for the Kleenex again. But in a good way.
A Snow Garden is for life, not just for Christmas.