Science fiction and fantasy
The Christmas Spirits
by Whitley Strieber
George learns that he's despised by his co-workers when one of his employees quits and leaves him with a costly two-fingered goodbye. But it takes supernatural assistance to get him to think about changing his ways.
The ghosts in this story aren't obviously spirits in George's eyes, at least not when he first encounters them. There's a creepy nun who follows him around, and an old tramp who looks exactly like someone he used to know. Lights flicker spookily. He thinks he sees elves that look like trolls. It's the kind of things George can blame on too much booze and not enough sleep, so he tries to ignore them. These spirits are much more subtle than the ones in Dickens. However I don't think modernising the ghosts of past, present and future in this way made much difference to the story. They're no more or less believable than any other kind, since readers are going to have to willingly suspend disbelief for this story in any case.
So the novel is fairly predictable until George visits an orphanage, where he discovers that he can't win Christmas with money alone. There's a grown-up twist on the story, with teenage tearaways and gangs showing George up as a naive old fool. This part is moderately amusing.
However all too soon we're back to the angst, as George starts to fear for his immortal soul and a tearful, desperate situation develops in the children's ICU. It's melodramatic in the extreme. This is an incredibly soppy, cheesy tale with an extra helping of religious propaganda. I think schmaltz like this gives miserliness a good name. The Christmas Spirits is only slightly original, and although it has some points to make that go beyond the message of the original they don't quite justify an entire novel. But my main problem with this book is simply the tone: if you really like Christmas and all of the unrestrained sentimentality that goes with it, you'll probably get a whole lot more enjoyment out of this book than I did.
7th November 2012
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Review © Ros Jackson
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