Friday, 9 December 2011

Book review: Miracle on Regent Street

By Ali Harris
Published by Simon & Schuster

Who doesn’t enjoy curling up with a good book when a storm rages outside? I certainly do. I must admit, however, that my choice of wintry reading normally falls on reinventions of modern classics, like Carol Ann Duffy’s The Night Before Christmas, or chills-down-the-spine kind of stories, like Kate Mosse’s The Winter Ghosts.

With Miracle on Regent Street, Ali Harris opened up a whole new world for me of Christmas tales for old-fashioned modern women - if you allow me the oxymoron!

The heroine of this novel is one such woman. Her name is Evie Taylor and she works as stockroom manager at Hardy’s, an elegant London department store that has seen better days. Relegated to the stockroom, Evie would like to work on the shop floor and has big dreams for Hardy’s, a place that – being where her parents fell in love – has always had a special meaning for her. Her dreams, however, might never come true. If the profits don’t increase, Mr Hardy will be forced to close and sell the store.

And so, in true super-heroine style, Evie turns into Christmas Evie! When nobody sees her, she starts transforming every sad-looking department into the retro extravaganza that she knows will be perfect to attract both old and new customers into the store. And what a success this turns out to be! Will it be enough to save Hardy’s difficult financial situation though?

Whatever the outcome of her work, the transformation of the store goes hand in hand with the transformation of Evie herself. A little bit like the ugly duckling that becomes a swan. Except that she’s always been a swan, at least in the eyes of the people who matter most. To be perfectly honest, I found myself rolling my eyes at her (or at the book… let’s hope nobody’s ever seen me!) quite a bit. Evie has a nice way of listening to others like they matter and a very big heart but someone should have told her a long time ago that owning up to one’s merits is not a bad thing to do.

Still, like any well-rounded character in a well-written book, you learn to accept their weaknesses and praise their qualities.

And what about Hardy’s? The way it is described in such exquisite and evocative detail, as are all the vintage clothes and accessories… I have no words to explain the feeling of bereavement that pervaded me once I finished the book. In a way, I didn’t keep reading Miracle on Regent Street because I wanted to know what happened next. I kept reading it because I wanted to go back to Hardy’s. I went to London a few days ago and I was sad – truly sad – that Hardy’s wasn’t a real store. I still go past shop windows and think “oh, that display would have been perfect in Hardy’s…”

Ali Harris, who was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, wrote a gorgeous debut novel that will place lots of expectations on her second work of fiction. Out in 2012, that’s a publication day that I certainly look forward to.

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