Saturday, December 11

The Christmas Quilt - Jennifer Chiaverini

The first of the holiday-themed Elm Creek Quilt novels, The Christmas Quilt combines events from Sylvia Bergstrom's childhood with a contemporary Christmas. Sylvia's young partner Sarah is trying to introduce a little holiday spirit in to the manor, despite Sylvia's rather bah-humbug response to her every suggestion. Sylvia thinks Sarah should spend the day with her mother, Carol
with whom she's perpetually at odds. Sarah has abundant reason for her estrangement, chief of which is Carol's inability to accept Sarah's husband Matt as a fit life-partner for her (in part because she sees his degree in landscaping as him being 'just a gardener').
When Sarah unearths a half-finished but obviously Christmas-themed quilt amongst a box of long-neglected Christmas ornaments, Sylvia is reminded of events of a Christmas long ago. That Christmas marked the beginning of a year of change and growth, much of it bitter, for Sylvia. The Great Depression was beginning to bite, and for the first time its effects were felt in Elm Creek Manor. Sylvia's mother, unwell since childhood, seemed oblivious and was intent of recreating her locally famous apple strudel, not only for the Bergstroms but for their friends and neighbours, despite the growing price of luxuries. Unable to complete the baking, this Christmas was the first that Sylvia and her older sister Claudia were entrusted with the task.
It was a year of loss for Sylvia, and the first of these came at Christmas, when her favourite cousin, Elizabeth, announces her engagement to a young man. Already jealous that Elizabeth seems more interested in this boring man than her, Sylvia is distraught when the couple reveal they'll be moving east, to a ranch Henry's bought in California. Sylvia knows she'll never see her cousin again, and tries valiantly to make Elizabeth stay.
This long-ago experience, combined with the death of her own mother not long after that Christmas, informs Sylvia's decision to more strongly encourage Sarah to make peace with Carol. In turn, Sylvia finally makes peace with her now-dead sister, Claudia.
Like the rest of the series, The Christmas Quilt uses the art of quilting to piece together a portrait of feminine lives and values - the setting is domestic, the relationships are most complicated among kin, and the writing is meticulous and almost invisible. There are a couple of dangling threads, including the tantalising question of what happened to Elizabeth, and I finished the novel with a sense of quiet satisfaction. - Alex

The Elm Creek Quilt series:
1. The Quilter's Apprentice
2. Round Robin
3. The Cross-Country Quilters
The Runaway Quilt
5. The Quilter's Legacy
The Master Quilter
7. The Sugar Camp Quilt
8. The Christmas Quilt
9. Circle of Quilters
10. The Quilter's Homecoming
11. The New Year's Quilt
12. The Winding Ways Quilt
13. The Quilter's Kitchen

14. The Lost Quilter
15. A Quilter's Holiday
16. The Aloha Quilt

No comments: