I try and read at least one festive book in December and this year I chose Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak. It’s not the usual upbeat novel I would choose and it does have some sadness to it. Olivia has been in Liberia treating victims of the Haag virus (a fictional disease but quite clearly based on the Ebola outbreak in the country) and after her return she must spend seven days in quarantine. This week coincides with Christmas and provide a way to explore what happens when families who usual don’t spend time together are stuck with each other’s company. Much like Christmas for many real families.

For the convenience of the story, Public Health decides everyone can do their quarantine at home with their families. Olivia’s family happen to have an isolated country house in Norfolk, perfect. Her mother is overjoyed at getting the chance to spend some time with her daughter and is determined not to let anything to get in the way of that, not even a recent cancer diagnosis, which she decides to keep secret until after Christmas.

In this, the most wonderful time of the year, food is the saviour. It is food that oils the wheels between deaf aunt and mute teenager. It is food that fills the cracks between siblings with cinnamon-scented nostalgia. And it is food that gives the guilt-ridden mother purpose, reviving Christmases past with that holy trinity of turkey, gravy and cranberry.

I can’t say I liked the characters much, they are all very self-absorbed but this is actually part of the premise, that they need this enforced family time to see what they’ve become and how selfish they can be. The father, Andrew, is a snarky restaurant critic, formerly a war correspondent. Olivia’s sister is newly engaged to a pompous, but rich, arse. She cares more about material things and planning the perfect wedding than anyone around her. You know one thing I don’t want it a Christmas read? Reminders about diets, calories and weight.

Jesse is an American on the search for his birth father, who happens to be Andrew. Andrew has been ignoring the emails from his estranged son (who he didn’t know existed) so Jesse just flies to England to gatecrash their Christmas. I found Jesse the most annoying of the bunch, the kind of character who sings the praises of Shoreditch and is undeniably rude about Norfolk. On the subject, I hated the portrayal of the countryside in this book, definitely read like it’s written by someone who rarely leaves London.

Olivia is supposedly the balance to the family, but she’s a bit sanctimonious about the work she does. People are allowed to enjoy a bit of frivolity at Christmas even though bad things are happening in the world.

Still, she wished she didn’t have the feeling that Olivia looked down on their Christmas fun as slightly grotesque.

I nearly put this book down but at some point the characters develop some awareness of others and their secrets start to unravel. I kind of liked them by the end. I liked the idea of exploring the family dynamics of the holidays, especially removing the option to leave.

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Book Source: Purchased