Reviewing as many Christmas books as I have, you become attuned to some recurrent themes: anticipation, togetherness and charity pop up again and again. Often amongst the joy there’s a little melancholy. Less commonly there is loneliness.
Like Orlando Weeks’ The Gritterman, Marguerite’s Christmas deals with loneliness in a fascinating way. Instead of the usual child’s eye view of proceedings we see Christmas eve through the experience of a solitary old lady.
She assures her family that she is fine spending the holiday alone, and busies herself with her Christmas rituals of TV holiday specials, ready meals and glasses of bubbly.
But it quickly becomes clear that Marguerite is becoming isolated, and fearful even of stepping out doors. This surely is the only Christmas picture book where the only man in red is the grim reaper.
She lives in what appears to be a vast, empty house, its size cleverly accentuated in the architectural style of Eyvind Earle, the great Disney artist and master of the mid-century Christmas cards. Pascal Blanchet uses this to great effect. The period style is fitting for his aged protagonist and serves to make her look even more isolated.
For Marguerite even the tiniest details are turned into gargantuan sized problems. Like the sound of her slippers on the floor that remind her of Rita, her friend whose fall is immortalised in granite.
Despite the protagonist’s age, I suspect children will respond to this story. Marguerite’s concerns are the same as theirs after all, she is small and often fearful of what lies outside her door in the dark.
When Marguerite finally does conquer her fears, the world appears to her as if she is seeing it for the very first time. And that sort of wonder is what Christmas is all about.
Marguerite’s Christmas is published by Enchanted Lion