Keeping a Christmas Promise by Jo Thomas – a moving and atmospheric novel of discovering a different way of life

Keeping a Christmas Promise by Jo Thomas

This is a moving and enjoyable novel which takes three women out of their normal lives at a busy time of the year and plunges them into a different world. Narrated by Freya, and featuring her two friends Meg and Joanna, this is a story of friendship and community in extreme times, and the importance of living life looking forward. It features lively descriptions of an unknown landscape in an extreme set of circumstances, when several of the characters learn a lot about other people and crucially themselves. For those who love food and cooking there are some genuinely memorable details, as well as the incredible descriptions of how different styles of cooking and creation of meals varies.

The setting for the book is Iceland, as the three friends are determined to fulfil a promise made to the fourth member of their group who had wanted to see the Northern Lights. They have accordingly taken time out of their busy lives at great cost in many ways, so it is little surprise when they show immense determination to see the lights on the first night of their stay despite the weather not being very promising. Their late friend Laura had compiled with them a list of things to achieve, and seeing the Northern Lights was high on the list. Meg is planning her wedding just after Christmas and is beset with family demands and her quest for perfection. Joanna is married to an extremely wealthy older man, who expects a family Christmas on a grand scale which she must organise. Freya is single, but is totally committed to working in a Michelin starred restaurant where she has worked her way up from a minor job to nearly opening another restaurant in the group. She has a genuine love of food and remembers people in terms of the meals she has cooked for them.

 Three strong women have joined forces to honour their friend’s wishes, and a weather forecast will not deter them. Even when they come to a grinding halt in a bad storm, they are still determined to see the lights, but it soon seems evident that they are stuck for an indefinite time. In seeking help, Freya encounters Petur, who has an influential role in the community, and there are many surprises to come.

I really enjoyed this book and found it extremely memorable for its descriptions of a way of life of an isolated community in difficult circumstances. The way that the weather, the landscape and the conditions is written made this such a lyrical, almost visible narrative. Freya’s voice is sincere and realistic, especially as she acknowledges that she is deeply challenged by the tasks she has taken on. She compares the food she is offered in the hotel with what she discovers and cannot help realising that her cooking in London is not perhaps what she wants. She becomes attracted to many things in her new situation, not least the taciturn Petur, and yet knows that she and her friends must return to their ordinary lives as soon as possible. Her voice throughout this novel is realistic and revealing and is so well written. This is a wonderful book to read as the weather gets colder, and yet is so well written that it can be enjoyed at any time. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel and recommend it as a really enjoyable and absorbing read.   

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