The Christmas Party by Karen Swan – a winter book of nights to remember beyond Christmas

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A book with Christmas in the title, but certainly too strong a novel to be limited to the run up to the festive season. A story of three sisters and events which just happen to be in the run up to Christmas, this is a winter story. Ottie, Pip and Willow are the adult daughters of Declan Lorne, the last knight in Ireland, who is quite a character. They live in Lorne castle, on the coast of Ireland amidst wild countryside and near to a small but lively village. Their mother, Serena, is known for her beauty and loyalty to her husband. They present a united front at a party at the shabby but much loved castle, among friends who have gathered for a popular celebration. Willow, the youngest daughter, is notably absent in Dublin. This is a book of family excitements, secrets and lies as the personalities of the girls emerge. The setting of the novel is important to the story, as the wild weather affects events and people. Swan has created characters that linger in the mind in all their strengths and weaknesses, and I soon felt really strongly involved. Their impulses and decisions are brilliantly described, and truly there are several nights to remember throughout the story. I really enjoyed this contemporary story with elements that reach back for several decades.


Willow rushes back when she hears of her father’s impending death, but her grief at his loss is compounded by the shock of all of the women of the castle. Ottie, despite her  job helping her father to run the estate, lives in a small cottage next to the private beach and campsite which she runs. Pip has always been determined to work with horses, and she lives above the stables, organising pony trekking. Both have dreams and obsessions beyond their current situations, but also are happy to stay in the area. Willow, on the other hand, for undeclared reasons has chosen to live and work in Dublin, and has no real intention of returning to the castle in which she grew up and shares many memories of even in its dilapidated state.When it emerges that Willow has inherited the castle, apart from the two areas left to her sisters, she becomes determined to sell up and move out as soon as possible. Ottie is pushed in many ways, organising a path for an ultra run, and soon realises that to fulfil her deepest wishes she must upset everyone. Pip adopts desperate measures to make her dreams come true, and risks everything. Willow is aware that if she goes through with the sale of the house, it condemns her mother to living in the small, dark  Dower house, and her sisters to losing the main home they know so well. 


I found this an intense book in which I found myself quietly yelling at the main characters. The story, with all its twists, is compelling and draws the reader in. The setting, of the castle, the countryside, the village and its inhabitants also work really well with the people, and is faithfully described and brought to life. There is room for the anger, the laughter and the dialogue which all add up to a really good read, which I strongly recommend.