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Book review:
The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas, by John Julius Norwich, illustrated by Quentin Blake The Twelve Days of Christmas
by John Julius Norwich
Illustrated by Quentin Blake

Atlantic Books, 2010
32 pages

Inspired by the traditional Christmas carol, these twelve very funny thank you letters in response to twelve quite extraordinary gifts illustrate a slippery slope of gratitude and love.

In the famous song The Twelve Days of Christmas, the singer lists 12 gifts sent to her by her 'true love', starting with a partridge in a pear tree on day one, and culminating with 12 drummers drumming on day twelve. It's all rather enigmatic (the origins of the song, first published in 1780, are unclear), and I remember as a child thinking how strange it would be to really send and receive such gifts.

Well, this slim and delightfully illustrated book records the consequences of exactly that, by means of 12 brief letters from the recipient, Emily, to her 'true love', Edward.

It all starts well:

My dearest darling - That partridge, in that lovely little pear tree! What an enchanting, romantic, poetic present! Bless you and thank you. Your deeply loving Emily

However, Emily's gratitude is wobbling slightly by day four (and 'My dearest darling' has been downgraded to 'Dearest Edward'…), but rallies again on day five on receipt of the 'five most beautiful gold rings, one for each finger, and all fitting perfectly'. With the following day of six Geese-a-Laying, Emily's affection for Edward and his gifts deteriorates sharply, ("Frankly I had rather hoped you had stopped sending me birds…') and unravels completely a few days later with the arrival of 10 Lords-a-Leaping ('ten disgusting old men… taking inexcusable liberties with the milkmaids').

In keeping with this precipitous slide from love to hate, the final communication is a solicitor's letter seeking 'an injunction to prevent you importuning [Emily] further'.

All in all, a salutary lesson that true love rarely runs smooth, and a warning against being too creative with your gift-giving at Christmas. Avoid partridges and pear trees and give this book instead!

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