Excellent writing about the Christmas Spirit, literally. A delightful contemporary NA based on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, full of funny references. A novel to enjoy for your next Christmas (or whenever you feel like reading a Christmassy story).
The opening scene teaches us a lot about the protagonist. Charlene Dickenson is a young woman who lives New York and who, one day in June, sees her ex while she is on her way to work. Having trouble to let go of the past, a troublesome relationship that ended a while ago and that had her visiting a therapist, she decides to follow him and see if he still walks and acts the same. She’s wise enough to call her friend about it all, because she knows that following him is not going to help her let go of the past. And now that the reader has discovered a lot of the things they need to know about Charlene, her fate takes a turn for the worst.
Charlene dies when an overdue Christmas tree is pushed out of the window. And due to her ‘holiday-related accident’ she finds herself in one of the most bizarre afterlives ever described. Trapped in a building that reminds her of her bodily form on earth, Charlene is told to let go of her earthly self. A hard task. She is to become a Christmas spirit. The choices are right out of the Dickens’ novel, either she becomes a spirit of Christmas past, Christmas present or one of the future. If she succeeds in becoming one of these, she can excel and be promoted to become a Trip, which is a spirit with all three versions at the same time, and work in the administration office. If she fails she will become a Marley, a chained spirit with no hope of ever being promoted to nobody-knows what is beyond their world.
Imagine being dead. Imagine being an atheist. Imagine ending up being forced to be a ghost… for Christmas. Sounds fun? Charlene is confused. And possibly scared of the future prospects she encounters.
I am not sure what it is with the theme of dying and Christmas – Okay, I can guess – but having read Stairway to Heaven by Cheryle Williams not much earlier this year, I start to feel a theme here. And I actually like it. Whereas Stairway to Heaven was a pure romance à la Twilight in the afterlife, The Christmas Spirit has a completely different focus. There’s no heavy kissing or cuddling, but love is still an important theme. The love for your family and for your friends.
If anything it is a journey into the afterlife. Charlene is a character who grows as she experiences her new life as a spirit and tries to understand her new surroundings. But above all, it’s a novel about learning to let go of the past.
And yet, despite the heavy themes of death, saying goodbye or letting go, it has a light feeling to it. A joyful and warm Christmassy tone. Because this is also a novel about being different and being accepted. And in the end, of finding what one is looking for. The reader will not be disappointed.
There’s a certain charm to the way chapters are named after populair Christmas songs. It gives a tad of irony to the tale and helps to keep it light and humorous. So does the way language is deformed in this afterlife when one has become a spirit. Those of the past only speak in past tense, those in the future have a future version and to be frank, they can’t be understood that well because whatever they say is ahead of the other spirits.
J.M. Phillippe’s writing is smooth, rich, contemporary and, because of that, very recognizable. Charlene’s experiences keep our eyes glued to the paper (or in my case, e-reader). By introducing her to this new world of the afterlife J.M. Phillippe is introducing us to it as well.
The descriptions of things happening in this afterlife are quite cinematically and I could perfectly imagine how they would look like on the screen. For instance, the presentation that flies by Charlene’s head made me feel uncomfortable too, making it easier to identify with her. I too felt the awkwardness of Charlene watching or talking to someone who is both young, middle-aged and old. I don’t want to give away more examples, but J.M. Phillippe’s writing brings the text alive and brings you into the tale. And that is one of the many reasons why this book is a fun and thrillingly good read.
It didn’t take long for me to identify with Charlene despite our completely different positions in life. Her confusion and her curiosity are recognizable. And with every discovery she makes new questions are raised. It’s an excellent tool by J.M. Phillippe that encourages us to keep reading, just to find out more. The entire book had me rooting for Charlene and wondering what would become of her. And rest assured, answers will gradually be given.
And if all the above isn’t enough to make you curious, there are plenty of literature references scattered throughout the tale that can make you giggle. Plus, the other characters are all very interesting and accepting of each other. I also love the way Phillippe added a character whose gender is undetermined and who is described as a they.
Why you must read this book
I don’t often end with a paragraph with a title like this one, but I thoroughly enjoyed A Christmas Spirit and would definitely recommend it. Apart from having a good sense of humor and an interesting arch, this book manages to deliver that feel-good feeling you like to have around Christmas. You might already want to add it to your to-read list, ask it for your birthday, or buy it and preserve it for Christmas time next year. It won’t be too hard to get your hands on it. Both the e-book and the Paperback are available via Amazon.