Book review: A Snow Garden and Other Stories by Rachel Joyce

James Walton

The author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry returns with her powerful second book, A Snow Garden and Other Stories.  

The Snow Garden
A Snow Garden by Rachel Joyce
 

Ever since her hugely successful first novel, Rachel Joyce has shown a rare ability to convey—with remarkable lightness of touch—the powerful emotions at work in seemingly quiet lives.

Now she shows it again, this time with seven interlinked stories, all set over the Christmas period and with minor characters (or just people mentioned) in one story becoming major characters in another.

In the first tale, for example, as Binny struggles to get everything ready for Christmas after her partner has left her, she briefly remembers her old friend Alice.

In the second, Alice takes centre stage, with her marriage suddenly (if understandably) turning sour when she and her husband have to put their son’s new bike together on Christmas Eve. 

Not surprisingly, this method gives A Snow Garden more coherence than most short-story collections, especially when the final tale deftly brings us the latest news from all concerned.

What’s surprising, however, is that it never feels contrived or intrusive. Nor does it affect the quality of the individual stories, each of which is warm-hearted and entirely satisfying in its own right.