Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Packages, The Last Resort, and Christmas

I ordered a gift from a catalogue and inadvertently sent it to myself.  I had avoided hysteria only to end up at the last minute in line at UPS wondering much it would cost to ship the package in time for Christmas.  I was relieved to learn that the regular rate would transport it magically.  

Now everything is done.  Christmas tree up, presents wrapped and sent.  And the novel I'm reading by one of my favorite writers happens to have a couple of chapters about an ordinary Christmas.

Pamela Hansford Johnson
Pamela Hansford Johnson's The Last Resort features a realistic Christmas scene that is more true to life than sentimental scenes in traditional Christmas books.  The narrator, Christine, relates:
"Gerard happened to remark to Aveling, who had recently become a member of his club, that I did not welcome Christmas.  It had been agreeable enough when Mark was a little boy, when it was his day, worth the planning, but he was nearly fifteen now and passing through a phase of aggressive religious orthodoxy.  He remarked grandly to me that Christmas had entirely lost its original significance:  it was simply an occasion for pigging, spending too much money and wearing silly hats.  "Of course," he added with his usual redeeming realism, 'I wouldn't want not to have presents.'"
The family, urged on by Aveling, a recent widower, spends Christmas in a hotel with complicated, unhappy friends.  Celia, who has had a long affair with Aveling, lives in the hotel part-time with her parents.  Since Aveling's wife's death, he has not had sex with Celia, and we, the readers, are waiting for him to dump her. Celia's smothering mother will do anything to break them up.  Celia's loud father makes everyone uncomfortable: he plays table tennis with Mark, accuses him of cheating, and gives him 10 pounds.  All seems like a real Christmas--who hasn't played ping pong on Christmas day?--especially the dinner scene in which single people and couples in the hotel awkwardly exchange nods and conversation, not wanting to set a precedent.  

And Celia, so unhappy herself, insists to Christine that they make a special gesture toward two of the lonely old women residents.  Celia orders special port, and, as the four women drink, it seems to break the ice between the older residents.
"The old ladies finished their port and thanked us again.  They rose in unison, said good night and went together toward the lift.
"'That is the very first time I have seen them side by side,' Celia said, 'they're always in single file.  Isn't it wonderful?'"
The kind gestures at Christmas seem realistic to me. People make contact with difficult family members.  They invite solitary people to their homes.  I wish to goodness someone would invite me to a hotel.  Some give money to charities and others volunteer at church suppers, though of course the food kitchens need volunteers the rest of the year, too.  

But of course some do nothing.  Or just plain make it worse.

It is kind of a horrible time of year for a holiday.  It's dark and cold.  It is a good time to stay inside and read Christmas books.

And I do intend to do some REAL Christmas reading.  I have my Dickens Christmas books out and will randomly read one I haven't read before or at least a short story. 


Danielle said...

I was recently introduced to Pamela Hansford Johnson last year and liked her very much. I read The Honours Board, but her books seem to be a little hard to get a hold of here--I will have to see what I can borrow--I love the top quote from The Last Resort--that seems very realistic indeed. I don't have any special reading lined up--just trying to finish a few books. And I just finished Anna Karenina! It took me a while, but I did it. I hope you have a wonderful holiday!

Frisbee said...

Danielle, Merry Christmas! And congratulations on finishing Anna Karenina, which you inspired me to reread. I'd be perfectly happy to read Tolstoy all the time, but decided not to read War & Peace with dovegreyreader. As my husband reminded me, I just reread that a year or two ago

I don't usually do special Christmas reading, but I have the Dickens out just in case.

I love Johnson!

Anonymous said...

For a couple of years I read a Christmas story on Christmas day. One year it was Trollope's "Christmas at Thompson Hall" (a gem). Now if I do it, I watch a movie -- I'm thinking Joyce's "The Dead" this year.

I do recommend Bobbie Ann Mason's "Drawing Names" in _Shiloh and Other Stories_.

But, my dear, it's two days away. It's not Xmas yet. There is yet time to ignore it. It's only the evening of the 24th and day of the 25th that require some sort of effort to get through.


Frisbee said...

Ellen, yes, I AM early with Christmas. It goes on for at least a week. Don't you feel that tomorrow is Christmas, even though it's Christmas Eve?

I don't like the darkness and would be much happier if Xmas came in the summer.

Watching "The Dead" on Xmas seems properly oxymoronic. I do remember it was an extremely good movie, though.

Tony S. said...

My most recent Christmas tradition is watching the movie "Love Actually" which is rapidly becoming a Christmas classic. Pamela Hansford Johnson is a grat author whom I haven't heard much about lately.

Frisbee said...

I enjoyed Love Actually, though I don't remember much about it. You're right: it IS a Christmas movie. I saw part of it at the gym last Christmas...

Steph said...

Dear Bookworm
I am not sure if you are still on this site, but I wrote to you a couple of years ago about Pamela Hansford Johnson -to jog your memory - offering you This Bed Thy Centre (but you already had a copy). She is still a great favourite of mine too,and now I see you have read The Last Resort. Have you read An Impossible Marriage? It appears to be a veiled account of her first marriage, and is excellent. May I also suggest Monica Dickens, if you have not already found her? I love to read what you write about what you read! Best wishes. Steph (formerly Anonymous)