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When Ms Ellis died this month (March 2005) it was with great chagrin that I, entirely ignorant, read the obituaries praising her books and her stubbornly traditional Catholicism. Fortunately the local used book store had this short novel and though it doesn't appear to be classed among her very best it certainly whets the appetite.

Eric, who has bought an inn on an island off the north coast of Scotland, much to the chagrin of his increasingly embittered wife, strikes upon an idea for showing that he can make a go of his business. He places an advertisement that offers:
Dreading Christmas? Then get away from it all at an inn at the edge of the world...
The five lonesome guests who show up are a predictably troubled lot. Ms Ellis puts her characters through their paces with mordant wit, but real affection. There's an especially nice scene where an older military man who's writing about Chinese Gordon has been discussing his work with a semi-famous actress when:
He noticed, surprised, that he had been needing to talk to somebody about what he was doing, and Jessica felt the sleepy gratification of a child who has been told a story.
Later the same two have been talking about Christmas and she's been fairly morose:
"I'm sorry to be so depressing," said Jessica. "I'm not usually -- I think," she added modestly. "Except for you I don't much like the people here. Maybe that's it. Maybe this whole idea was a huge mistake. It was bound to be when you come to think about it -- plunging yourself into a load of strangers at the edge of the world. Trouble is -- when you get there you find it isn't the edge of the world. I think I forgot the world is round, so no matter where you go, no matter how far you run, sooner or later you find yourself staring at your own retreating backside. How pointless everything is."

Harry had no words of comfort. He would have said that the pointlessness existed because she had left Christ out of Christmas. She had had sufficient good sense and good taste to learn to eschew the bacchanalian excesses of the season, but not enough to realize what else she had sacrificed. You could say, thought Harry, that she had thrown out the Holy Child with the bath salts, bath oil, bath essence and bubbles which so often appeared as gifts, unknowingly symbolizing the frankincense and myrrh...
Unknowingly. With the exception of Harry, and the author and we observers, they're all too unknowing, unable to see the cost to themselves of their atomization, unable to see that they've made their own pointlessness. It's a sad but funny book and I look forward to reading more by her.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B+)

  

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British (Post War)
Alice Ellis Links:

    -VIRAGO BOOKS: Alice Thomas Ellis
    -Diary (Alice Thomas Ellis, 4/24/04, The Spectator)
    -OBIT: Alice Thomas Ellis: Novelist, publisher and columnist who championed an unfashionably traditionalist Roman Catholicism (Times of London, 3/10/05)
    -OBIT: Novelist Alice Thomas Ellis dies: Alice Thomas Ellis, the novelist, editor and columnist, has died from cancer aged 72. (BBC, 3/10/05)
    -OBIT: Alice Thomas Ellis (Daily Telegraph, 10/03/2005)
    -OBIT: Alice Thomas Ellis dies of cancer at 72 (Nigel Reynolds, 10/03/2005, Daily Telegraph)
    -OBIT: Alice Thomas Ellis Dies; Wrote About Catholicism (Associated Press, March 12, 2005)
    -REVIEW: of PILLARS OF GOLD By Alice Thomas Ellis (SARAH FERGUSON, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE 27TH KINGDOM By Alice Thomas Ellis (BROOKE ALLEN, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE SIN EATER By Alice Thomas Ellis (DAVID FINKLE, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of FAIRY TALE By Alice Thomas Ellis (KATHARINE WEBER, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A Welsh Childhood by Alice Thomas Ellis (Alida Becker, NY Times Book Review)

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