Book Review: The Gift by Cecilia Ahern

The Gift by Cecilia AhernIf you were to stroll down the candy-cane façade of a suburban housing estate early on Christmas morning, you couldn’t help but observe how the houses in all their tinselled glory are akin to the wrapped parcels that lie beneath the Christmas trees within.  For each holds their secrets inside…

This was a good book to read just before Christmas.  In essence it’s about giving and receiving gifts: material or otherwise.  The novel opens on Christmas Day itself; then, in a story within a story, we flash back to the week leading up to Christmas.

If you are a Christmassy person, you should love all the festive references jumping out from the pages.  There’s a lovely scene where a Christmas market and its accompanying ice-rink, Santa’s Grotto and fairground are described in all their glorious, colourful detail, rendering a wide-eyed five-year-old speechless.

Unfortunately, for me at least, the book also brought to life the stress and anxiety which the run-up to Christmas can bring: all the rushing around; worrying about what to buy for someone you really should know well enough by now; making sure that you meet up with everyone to wish them well for the new year in person; and shops persuading shoppers that they have to have this and this and one of these to have a perfect Christmas.

I think the reason I felt this way was not specifically because of all the Christmas references in the novel.  In fact if anything these were the best bits: conjuring up the strived-for image of a peaceful, scenic Christmas and trying to evoke all the positive expectations and emotions which go hand-in-hand with the festive season (even if, by the end, they had started to feel a bit contrived and, dare I say it, a little preachy).

The thing which actually stressed me out was the main character Lou.  He is a successful businessman with far too much crammed into his schedule.  He struggles to balance boardroom conferences, after-dinner drinks with clients, affairs with various secretaries and nannies, and the demands of his family.  And his family is always the area of his life which he chooses to sacrifice, because, as he puts it, “family can’t fire me”.  But he pushes them pretty close to it.

Lou’s rushing around and bad timetabling led me to make a “Christmas-time scenes (however cheery) plus stressed out characters equals stressful Christmas” equation, even if the two were not supposed to be intrinsically linked by the author.  I genuinely felt anxious all the way through the book – as if I was doing most of the worrying for Lou – especially as he is so selfish and un-likeable (in my eyes).  Or perhaps I’m just a bit over-sensitive.

Be warned: there is a moral which the author intends us to learn from.  It’s not even an underlying message about the miracle of Christmas.  Ahern literally tells us what she wants her readers to take away from her book: i.e. make the most of your time with your loved ones.  A great sentiment, and one I thoroughly agree with… but I could have gleaned that very easily without the metaphorical underlining.  I don’t appreciate being told want to think; I’d prefer the writer to show me what they mean by a cleverly formed plot and character interaction, rather than spell it out so bluntly.

This, on top of feeling absolutely no sympathy for Lou, struggling to understand why his wife would continue to up with his behaviour, and groaning at yet another dose of Christmassy enthusiasm, put me off the whole novel.  I’m certainly not saying that I hate ‘chick lit’ (although I do dislike that name), because a lot of books consigned to this genre are funny, well-written and thought-provoking (and even if they’re not, sometimes a fluffy romance is sometimes just what you fancy reading)!  I just wouldn’t bother reading this particular book unless you absolutely adore Christmas and all its trimmings.

On that extremely un-festive note, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and have a happy new year!

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. 69point23degrees
    Dec 27, 2011 @ 13:56:31

    Hey,

    I noticed your review this week was an author beginning with A. Based on your comments, I don’t think I’ll be reading that book any time soon though.

    I just finished the recent Julian Barnes book and it’s a better Booker winner than last year, that’s for sure.

    I’ve realised that this site links automatically to my wordpress – did you find the blogspot one? That’s the good one…

    69point23degrees.blogspot.com

    Happy New Year,

    V.

    Reply

    • TheBrontëSister
      Dec 27, 2011 @ 22:04:34

      I felt guilty about writing a bad review, but it had to be done.

      Well spotted – although I may not do an A-Z theme after all now… I’m considering a different, more interesting one, rather than one which has no relevance other than to me. Watch this space as I’ll do a new post about it before the new year rolls around.

      I’ve found your blogspot site and am waiting eagerly for your next post!

      Hope you had a lovely Christmassy Christmas and have a happy New Year.

      Reply

  2. Trackback: New year, new books, new way of reading… « TheBrontëSister

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