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An Almost Perfect Christmas by Nina Stibbe review – pass the frozen turkey

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Stibbe’s miscellany of tall tales, advice on unapologetic gift-giving and remembrance of botched Christmases past is a rustled-up delight

There is no disguising it – at least that is what you think at first. This book is a potboiler – or, given its subject, a turkey brick. You can almost hear the publishers – or Nina Stibbe herself – calculating: how about following the success of Love, Nina(her memoir about being a nanny to LRB editor Mary-Kay Wilmers’ sons) and a couple of amusing novels with a festive bestseller? I opened An Almost Perfect Christmas preparing to be underwhelmed, only to find myself chuckling at every other page. By the end – or, actually, not long after the beginning – I was a convert. This book is the seasonal garnish we all need. There is no subject upon which Stibbe could not entertain.

Having said that, it’s startling to discover the extent of her resistance to turkey. Christmas chops, her annual rebellion, sound a bleak-midwinter alternative. But you start to sympathise as she reminisces about childhood Christmases and her mother’s frantic efforts, as a non-cook, with the turkey. Can we believe that Nina was asked to point a hairdryer at the turkey’s frozen core to defrost a bird bought at the last minute from Iceland? I think we can. With Stibbe, what she writes is often so outlandish, you suspect it must (with the exception of a Christmas lunch story flagged up as fiction) be true.

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