Stevie Carroll's Reviews > A Gift in December

A Gift in December by Jenny Gladwell
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bookshelves: reviewed-elsewhere

Previously reviewed on The Good, The Bad, and The Unread:

I’m not sure how well-known the story of the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree is outside the UK, but it’s certainly a tale that’s familiar to Brits across what I believe to be quite a wide demographic. Presented every year since the Second World War by the people of Norway, the tree commemorates the parts the two nations played as allies, when the Norwegian Government-in-Exile was based in the UK, while Norway was under Nazi occupation. Both the past and present aspects of the story are key to this novel in which a ragtag of journalistic types travel out from London to witness the cutting down of that year’s tree and sample some traditional Norwegian hospitality.

Jane Brook is used to being asked to cover much weightier news stories, but the last big scoop led to the demise of her short-lived relationship with an insecure colleague, who couldn’t stand to be involved with a woman more successful than him. Jane’s boss is convinced that a change of scenery and a different sort of investigation are just what Jane needs to mend her broken heart. Accompanying Jane are a freelance photographer, who often covers war stories for Jane’s paper, a washed-up explorer-cum-reality-TV-star, a tabloid journalist, a writer from a high-end food magazine, and three influencer-bloggers.

Right from the start, it’s obvious the group is going to be held to a tight schedule and their wrangler is determined to ensure they have fun partaking in all the organised activities and meals with no slacking or skiving. Jane is less than impressed at being told what to do, and neither it appears is Philip, the adventurer whose affair with a married co-presenter cost him his slot on a popular TV show. Philip is keen to reinvent himself as a serious writer – hence his presence on the trip – but agrees with Jane that there are better stories to be written than the one their host expects them to tell.

Encouraged by her friends back home, Jane embarks on an affair with Philip, and together the pair determine to help the old man, a Norwegian war hero, who is the special guest on their trip. As a young soldier, Thomas Erikson accompanied the King and his retinue on their escape through the woods and over the border into Sweden and then England. On route, Thomas had a fling with a local woman who helped the party, but remained behind on a remote island while Thomas journeyed onward. She wrote him a series of letters, to which he never replied. Now he wants Jane to retrieve them from their post-war hiding place and to finally tell his story.

I guessed several plot twists a good while before they happened, and I knew the secret of Thomas’ letters long before Jane worked it out, which was disappointing when she was supposedly a successful investigative reporter. I wasn’t particularly taken with any of the characters who accompanied Jane to Norway, although I’d have liked to see more of her two friends who communicated with her from London. Although the bloggers turned out to be less vain and shallow than Jane’s first impressions of them, everyone else seemed to be very much as they appeared on the surface even by the end of the story. I’d have liked to see more excerpts from the letters as well, since they were a big part of what drew me to the book in the first place. All in all, a rather disappointing book that promised far more than it managed to deliver.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
August 20, 2019 – Shelved
August 20, 2019 – Shelved as: reviewed-elsewhere
August 20, 2019 – Finished Reading

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