Cressida Connolly

Bookends: radiate some seasonal goodwill to the ex

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Here is the latest Book End column from this week's issue of the Spectator:

‘I only see radiators these days’, announces one of the characters in this novel — ‘You know, people who give out heat and warmth.’ A radiator is a pretty good description of India Knight’s Comfort and Joy, too: a book so kindly and funny and affectionate that you could probably warm your hands on it.

Miraculously, this is a feel-good story that manages not to be saccharine. Our heroine, Clara, may be nice, but she’s also barbed, tough and clever: a thoroughly modern woman. The action takes place over three consecutive Yules, during which time Clara’s one ex-husband is joined by a second, and we learn that a certain sadness in her youth is the motor driving her desire to make Christmas lovely for everyone. Ex number two and his brilliantly comic mother — a creation worthy of Alan Bennett — still join Clara’s dotty and extended family for Christmas. Along with ex number one, of course.

There are a great many good jokes here, among them some of the most toe-curlingly embarrassing sex-talk I have ever seen described. But concealed amid the fun, like silver coins in a Christmas pudding, is a serious theme. Knight makes an excellent case for being on good terms with former partners, for being brave and honourable. I wish she would write a guide to making a success of divorce; it would be a bestseller.

This is a book you could safely give to practically anyone. Snap up plenty of copies to hand around under the tree.