The Christmas Party
The tree may not be up quite yet but now we have entered November there is a definite sense that Christmas – and the Christmas party – is not too far away. The shops are full of decorations and gifts; festive functions are being planned; and, more importantly, author Carole Matthews has a brand new seasonal paperback out.
The Christmas Party is Carole’s 25th novel and she has marked this impressive milestone by producing yet another warm, witty and wonderful story. Despite having penned so many unique and unputdownable tales, it seems that there is no shortage of ideas in this lovely lady’s imagination.
Drawing on inspiration from her own attendance as a guest at corporate Yuletide shindigs, Carole has created a cast of memorable and believable characters associated with the Milton Keynes office of a fictional oil company.
The book is set over just a few days: the day of the Christmas party, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This may seem an exceptionally short time-span but it works very well and an awful lot of action is deftly packed into the narrative.
Through Carole’s usual lively prose, readers are introduced to various Fossil Oil employees and their other halves. With little preamble, we soon delve into their personal lives and are privy to the secrets (romantic and professional) that make this Christmas party a night to remember for all concerned.
Our protagonist is Louise Young, a devoted single mother to four-year-old Mia. Louise’s ex-partner, Steve, left her not long after Mia was born and the couple’s accumulated debts have forced her to move back home to live with her parents. They are a tight family unit but Louise is desperate to get back on her feet and carve out a better future for herself and her daughter.
As the new girl at Fossil Oil, Louise is determined to make the best of her job as personal assistant to slick salesman Tyler Benson. Unfortunately, he has a bit of a reputation for having affairs with junior staff and he seizes every opportunity to touch, grope or brush against her. The book opens just as Louise has befriended Karen from Customer Accounts and confided in her about Tyler’s unwanted advances. Sharing her concerns alleviates some of the pressure Louise has been feeling and the duo begin to look forward to the firm’s Christmas party that evening.
I always enjoy Carole’s writing style as she combines use of the first and third person in alternating chapters for a satisfyingly complete narrative. Louise’s uncertainty and resolve to do well for her daughter are clearly expressed in the chapters written from her point of view and we really see how she grows in confidence as the story progresses. Carole effortlessly taps into the psyche of this young mother before seamlessly conjuring up the experiences and attitudes of two older women, both of whom are feeling trapped in their marriages to Fossil Oil executives, when writing in a non-personal voice.
We meet Tyler’s wife, Kirsten, as she is preparing for the same party (yet another corporate Christmas do for the jaded wife of a long-standing employee). It is immediately clear that, in spite of the lavish lifestyle Fossil Oil has provided the couple with, being married to an executive – particularly a womaniser like Tyler – is not easy. Higher up the managerial hierarchy we have Lance Harvey, ably (and necessarily) supported by his wife Melissa. She is also feeling frustrated and unhappy with her lot as Lance has eschewed a normal family life and the chance to really get to know his two sons in favour of climbing the greasy pole to become chairman at Fossil Oil.
Josh Wallace is Tyler’s right-hand man. Unlike Tyler, he knows how to treat a lady and you will find yourself willing a friendship (or maybe more) between Louise and Fossil Oil’s ruggedly handsome rising star.
All of the characters are superbly portrayed. I instantly felt for the two wives and both Tyler and Lance got my blood boiling with their narrow-minded focus on work and disregard for those around them. And, of course, Josh comes across as a genuine gentleman.
The actual Christmas party itself is spectacular, with high drama, comedy and romance in equal parts. During the course of the evening there are big decisions to be made regarding relationships, an earth-shattering announcement concerning the business and some touching scenes too.
This tale may take place against a Christmassy backdrop but there is so much more to the story than its seasonal setting. The relationships between the characters are fascinating and there are real laugh-out-loud moments. The writing throughout is descriptive and inviting – I simply did not want to put this book down until I had reached the end.
The Christmas Party has entered the Sunday Times bestseller list at number seven this week and I am not surprised at all. Carole’s books never disappoint – they are heartfelt without being saccharine and incorporate characters that all generations can relate to.
This sparkling story is a must-read, whether you treat yourself now or put it at the top of your Christmas list!
To buy The Christmas Party, or to find out more about it, visit Carole’s website.
This review was also featured on the Milton Keynes Citizen website.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.