If you’re looking for a different kind of Christmas read this year, Midnight in Everwood could be it. This retelling of The Nutcracker will whisk you away to a fantasy land of snow and sugar and will be best read in front of a fire with a hot drink on a cold day. Sadly, I didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped to but I know other readers will enjoy it much more than I did (and judging by the early reviews, they already are).
The novel opens in Nottingham in 1906, where twenty-year-old ballet dancer Marietta Stelle is hoping to audition for a prestigious ballet company. Her parents, however, have other plans for Marietta; they want her to give up dancing and settle down into a conventional and respectable married life. The husband they have in mind is their new neighbour, the inventor Dr Drosselmeier, who has been delighting everyone with his wonderful clockwork toys – everyone except Marietta, who senses something cold and cruel behind Drosselmeier’s charming exterior. Trying to escape from Drosselmeier’s unwelcome attentions on Christmas Eve, Marietta hides inside a grandfather clock, but when the clock strikes midnight she finds herself trapped within the enchanted, snow-covered land of Everwood.
This book is being marketed as children’s author MA Kuzniar’s debut adult novel – ‘The Nutcracker for adults’ – but I think this is misleading as it feels much more like a book for teenagers. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s not what I expected and the book lacked the depth I would have preferred. I also found the writing style much too flowery; there are long descriptions of clothes and food and every sentence is packed with adjectives and similes, most of them related to cakes and sweets – voices are ‘smooth and rich as buttercream’, eyes are the colour of ‘butterscotch’ and expressions ‘soften like melted chocolate’. The sugary theme continues throughout the entire book and while I found it quite captivating at first, my senses began to feel overwhelmed with sights, tastes and smells! I can see, though, that this is exactly what other people loved about the book, so it really does depend on the individual reader.
On a more positive note, it was interesting to read a book set in Edwardian Nottingham, rather than the usual London. I wished we had seen more of that setting, but the majority of the story takes place in the magical land of Everwood (which is reached in a way that reminded me of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Although Everwood seems enchantingly wonderful at first and a safe haven in which Marietta can hide from the sinister Drosselmeier, it quickly becomes clear that it is more of a prison, making this a dark Christmas read rather than a happy, festive one. The friends Marietta makes in Everwood – Dellara the fairy and Pirlipata, princess of Crackatuck – are imprisoned there too, and there is a feminist thread running through the story, exploring the various constraints on women’s lives, both in the fantasy world and in the real one.
I have to confess, I’ve never actually read the original ETA Hoffmann Nutcracker story or the Alexandre Dumas one on which the famous ballet is based. Maybe if I had, I would have appreciated this novel more, although I would still have struggled with the sweet and sugary writing style which just wasn’t for me at all.
Thanks to HQ for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.