‘The Christmas Chronicles’ by Nigel Slater: a review

The New Yorker once described Nigel Slater’s writing as ‘melancholic’, and yet somehow his instantly recognisable style works perfectly for his latest book all about Christmas. Rather than overflowing with unrealistic clichés, ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ builds a suitably desirable yet achievable depiction of the festive season. Slater’s signature rich descriptive imagery is a perfect combination for the topic of Christmas, a time of year already imbued with nostalgia and magic that can only be increased with Slater’s prose. Even the most mundane festive scenes are transformed into something desirable. With Slater’s writing, the aftermath of Christmas dinner becomes ‘the abandoned table, jewel-bright pools left in shimmering glasses – garnet and ruby…a scene of jubilant devastation’.

The design of The Christmas Chronicles is familiar territory for Slater fans – mirroring the style of his previous publications The Kitchen Diaries and Tender Volume I and II. It’s 450 pages comprise more than just a cookery book – structured as a diary, it encompasses elements of autobiography, travelogue and gardening manual alongside recipes. The Christmas Chronicles doesn’t stop abruptly at Christmas Day but stretches from the beginning of November to the 2nd February – also known as Candlemas, the day that traditionally officially marks the end of Christmas.

Topics covered range from analysis of various European Christmas markets to tales from Christmases (both happy and sad) from Slater’s past and advice on which species of Christmas tree to invest in this year. It is also refreshingly honest – after the Christmas meal is served, Slater admits ‘I dig my heels in. I flatly refuse to get involved in games’. Readers should be prepared to learn: it also frequently dips into brief histories without losing focus or interest; the brief interludes about the etymology of marzipan or the origins of hiding a coin inside a Christmas pudding feel seamless and naturally positioned. Meanwhile, the recipes interspersed throughout cover the traditional – mince pies, Christmas cake and turkey timings are all included – whilst also offering more interesting twists on dishes to dine on throughout winter, such as carrot hummus or passion fruit cream buns.

This is not a Pippa Middleton-esque manual to the perfect life, nor a straightforward Delia Smith style Christmas recipe compendium. Instead, it is an insight into Slater’s understated life that gently inspires some changes to your own festive season. If the stresses of the festive season have taken over, this is the perfect book to remind you of the simple joys found at this time of year. Finishing the last page leaves you craving frosty mornings, a mince pie and an invite to Nigel’s house for Christmas Day.

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