Book review: The Girl who saved Christmas by Matt Haig

4/5 stars.

Audible version, narrated by Carey Mulligan.

I got this as part of Audible’s 12 days of Christmas sale, where they advertised one bestseller for 99p a day. I got some really good books out of that sale that I’m looking forward to getting into. I got this one not knowing much about Matt Haig other than that I put another book of his on my Audible wish list a while ago.

Not only did it have a very clear Christmas theme, but was rated highly by both adults and children. And I have good experiences so far with audible books narrated by professional actors – this was no exception.

This is a story of the origin of Father Christmas, set partly in Victorian London and partly in the fictional Elfhelm where Father Christmas and the elves reside. It’s apparently the second book in a series – the first, as I understand it, dealing with Father Christmas’s childhood – but you don’t have to have read the first one to understand or enjoy this one.

We’re told that magic – at least the kind of magic Father Christmas uses – relies on hope. And it was the very strong and fervent hope of just one girl, Amelia Wishart, that gave Father Christmas enough magic to fly around the world for the very first time and deliver gifts to all the children of the world.

This time however, Father Christmas’s flight is in jeopardy, as Elfhelm is under troll attack, and Amelia’s hope dwindles as she faces personal tragedy. Will there be enough magic in the air for Father Christmas to fly? Will Elfhelm be safe? Why are the trolls attacking seemingly out of nowhere?

It’s a bittersweet story with a lot of warmth and humour. And with a guest appearance by Charles Dickens himself, as well as a very loyal and charming cat called Captain Soot,  it has all the makings of a holiday classic. And with a central message that hope creates magic, it’s hard to beat.

I very much enjoyed the descriptions of Elfhelm life and explanations of how magic worked, and I spent an enjoyable Boxing Day afternoon listening to this story. Carey Mulligans narration is wonderful – a true dramatic reading with voices for all the characters, a real joy to listen to.

I did get a little bored during the last third or so of the book and believe it could have been cut down a bit. But it’s very well possible that children would find it exciting, and of course this is primarily a children’s book. And it definitely succeeded in bringing back a little of the feeling of Christmas magic to this adult listener.

 

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