Book review: Holiday Romance by Catherine Walsh

(courtesy and (c) Catherine Walsh Books)

Is there anything more wonderful than falling in love at Christmas?

The twinkling of festive lights on the streets, trees decked in all manner of baubles and tinsely garb and the general sense of being in a luminously light place once-or-twice removed from the manic hubbub of everyday life – how can you not fall head over heels for the object of your affection?

Quite easily as it turns out as Molly Kinsella and Andrew Fitzpatrick have proved over a decade flying home to Ireland for Christmas in Catherine Walsh’s deliciously clever, romantic comedy-frothy, humanity-weighty delight of a festive novel Holiday Romance.

Only tangentially related at first with the two eventual friends only connecting by the loosest of fraught connections until they start talking one year on the last flight for the season from Chicago to Dublin where they discover they could very well turn out to be excellent friends.

But lovers? On no, not lovers; over the years, their seven hours and fifteen minutes of travel time have included all kinds of work and relational dramas, all firmly discussed and supported on the basis that thare are friends and friends only.

It’s a lovely Christmas tradition they have going and why possibly ruin by throwing love into the mix, no matter how fantastically well they get along?

Andrew Fitzpatrick’s shocked look disappears as soon as he sees me. He grins up at me with those hazel eyes as if I’m the best thing that’s happened to his day. I know he’s the best thing that’s happened to mine.

‘Hey, stranger,’ he says, leaning back against the chair. ‘Fancy seeing you here.’

That my friends may sound yet another in a long line of fairly obvious rom-com premises, and on paper, or in flight anyway, it is; but Walsh takes this breezy, well-worn friends-to-lovers and make utterly transportive, emotionally immersive and dialogue-snappy magic with it, fashioning a rom-com so bright, fun and clever that you will be swooning just as much as Molly might be temped to one Christmas when a massive Atlantic storm threatens to stop either of them getting home for Christmas.

While Molly loves her family, they aren’t really the Christmassy kind and so she’s not particularly bothered if she’s not home on the 25th; Andrew however is an altogether, Santa-obsessed, family-centric proposition.

A boy of solid Irish family stock, whose mother is renowned for her Christmas feasts and whose family have a loving, welcoming, if occasionally fractious bosom worth falling into, Andrew LOVES everything to do with the season and Molly knows in the instant that Andrew’s face falls at the news that Christmas is done for, at least in Ireland, that she has to get him home anyway she can.

Luckily for Andrew, high flying lawyer Molly is a woman with plans and the uncanny ability to make them happen, and so she embarks, with the help of some friends, on a Planes, Trains, Automobiles (and ferries)-esque odyssey to get Andrew home in time for Christmas.

If your mind immediately fills with the dulcet, wistfully melancholic sounds of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, then points for lyrical sentiment but speed the music up a bit as Molly and Andrew, with the aid of taxi driver bribes and strange London cousins who may be breaking into their not-quite-girlfriend’s home to decorate it, race from Chicag to Atltanta to Buenos Aires to Paris to London to Holyhead and – PHEW! – Dublin.

(courtesy official Catherine Walsh Twitter account)

It’s less Judy Garland mournfully, quietly musing on what Christmas will be like far from home in St. Louis and more a frantic, manic, jet-lagged pockmarked rush to rescue Christmas from the gaping jaws of storm and circumstance.

All of which involves a good deal more time than seven hours and fifteen minutes, and which, with the assistance of some strategically-placed mistletoe at Chicago airport, might just mean those ten years of friendship suddenly find themselves festively magicked into something altogether more romantic.

But of course they will.

The thing about Holiday Romance is that Walsh takes a whole bunch of inevitable elements and makes them into a rom-com so refreshingly alive, funny and sigh-worthy wonderful, replete with leaping-off-the-page-with-vivacity lead characters, who are a joy to spend time with, and dialogue that zings and zips with gorgeous alacrity, worthy of the highest calibre of romantic comedy, and a pure delight to read.

Not only do you LOVE Molly and Andrew who have the repartee and sparkly zest of the very best of rom-com couples but you adore their great, big odyssey across countries and cities, and how much this weirdly cobbled together dash home for Christmas is driven by the depth of Molly’s hitherto unspoken feelings for Andrew who may just love her back.

Oh, of course he does and honestly, you love every damn moment of Holiday Romance because Walsh delivers on the premise to an totally original, hilariously out-there and alive way, serving up that rare reading dish – a rom-com that feels like it’s never been attempted before.

Andrew’s expression doesn’t change, but it takes a moment for him to look away. ‘This isn’t a date,’ he says. ‘I wouldn’t take you somewhere Christmassy on a date.’

‘Where would you take me?’

‘I haven’t thought about it.’

‘You’ve thought about it enough that you know you wouldn’t take me here,’ I point out and I know I’ve caught him when he goes quiet.

That could be the greatest Christmas miracle of all.

If you love rom-coms as much as this reviewer does and consume them with the kind of fervour bordering on happily obsessed, you will be well acquainted with how little genre originality there is out there.

Many of the books in the genre are perfectly serviceable and lovely and you close the novel all aglow with the warmth and loveliness of love, especially when it takes place in a cosy, life-changing village/bookshop/cafe/petrol refinery (okay, likely not the last one), but they hardly rock your festive reading world.

Not so Holiday Romance which is so imaginatively fun and alive, so ripe with possibility and so breathtakingly spirit-uplifting, that you reach the epilogue and wish wish WISH you could stay with these groundedly wonderful human beings who deserve all the friendship, love and turkey they can get.

There is much rich emotionality and vibrant humanity in Holiday Romance, not to mention dialogue so zestfully in play that watching Andrew and Molly go back and forth is the most fizzily delightful of word exchanges, filled with hope, longing and the certainty of love almost, just, about-to-be realised, all of which set in wildly epic landscape of connections and outlandish moments that are all grounded in the most intimate of human connections.

Holiday Romance is a festive rom-com for the ages, a book so gorgeously well-written and so hilariously heartfelt and intelligently delivered that you wonder if it is possible to better; it has the happy ending, the lengthy slow-burn lead-up, the crazily manic bit in-between but most of all, it has a soul-restoring sense that love can conquer anything, even tight connections at airports and ferry terminals, and if that isn’t the best of all Christmas gifts, then you have to wonder what is.

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