REVIEW: The Art of Christmas by Jane Lovering
What if the memories of Christmas past were getting in the way of Christmas future?
It’s been nearly two years since Harriet lost Jonno, but she’s finally decided that it’s time to celebrate Christmas again.
Then she finds a stash of graphic novels belonging to her comic book-loving husband in the attic, and suddenly her world is turned upside down once more.
With the help of eccentric comic book dealer Kell Foxton, she discovers that the comics collected by Jonno are not only extremely valuable, but also hold the key to his secret life – a life that throws Harriet’s entire marriage and every memory she has of her husband into question.
As Harriet grows closer to Kell, she begins to feel like she could learn to love Christmas again – but first, she needs to know the truth.
Dear Ms. Lovering,
Ah, now I’ve reached the last of the holiday novellas you’ve written – so far, I hope. From the opening scene, wherein Harriet braves her attic in order to retrieve her cobweb laden fake Christmas tree, I knew I’d like the story and her. I’ve had to face arachnid decorated Christmas decorations myself and could almost feel Harriet ducking and swiping away spider webs as she went.
But there’s more to the story than that. Harriet is having to do this because up until two years ago, it had been her beloved husband Jonno who always hauled things out of the attic. Last Christmas she was too overcome with grief to face this, but this year she finally feels a tiny bit more like decorating a bit for the holiday. Dragging the needle dropping tree around some lumpy packages, Harriet discovers yet more of her SF loving husband’s graphic novels.
After Jonno’s death, she had sold most of them to a local store and I had to laugh at the fact that Kell knows exactly who she is if only because few women have ever sold him graphic novels. Yes, he’ll come over to look at what she’s found. And yes, something he says without thinking will rock Harriet’s whole world. What did she really know about her husband and can she trust what her memories of him are? Because before she can finally move forward, she must know she can trust herself and her instincts.
This novella has such lovely emotions all through it. Harriet’s lingering frozen grief is palpable. She’s been going through the motions since the heart attack that killed her husband – stuck and unwilling to move on. The discovery of the novels reminds her of how many times Jonno tried to get her to appreciate their artistic style and how often she would smile and nod but not really pay attention, always sure that she could do so later. Only there was no later.
Then Kell comes into her life again bringing some smiles – which at first felt a bit forced to her but which gradually became easier and more natural. His reaction to what she has to offer is hilarious, like a penitent unexpectedly faced with the Holy Grail. But reading the novels also opens Harriet to what her husband loved about them and oddly the story reminds her a bit about what she’s gone through and suddenly faces after what Kell tells her. Answers through art? Froddo the dog is a delight as well.
The romance is so sweet and gentle. Kell also had losses and the two of them are like strangers in a strange land, exploring and relearning trust. Tentative at first but gradually gaining confidence. When the bomb drops, what up until then had been a “bravery in the face of sadness” crossed with “finally ready to live life again” story had some of the holiday sweetness knocked out of it and became one with depth and swirling currents of painful emotions.
One final thing I almost hesitate to add but which I kept feeling through the story is that it reminded me, just a bit, of the lovely movie “Truly, Madly, Deeply.” Grief stricken heroine reconnects with something her husband loved and through the new person she meets, begins to move past what had held her stuck and becomes ready to live and possibly love again. Though this is actually a shorter length novella, it feels full and satisfying with well rounded characters who run through a gamut of feelings before emerging on the other side. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to start over and read it again. A-