Like an advent calendar, Shena Mackay's novel opens mysterious doors on the bizarre lives of John Wood and his family who have moved into the decrepit North London house of an infirm uncle and are all facing Christmas with problems of poverty, impossible love and loneliness.
The story begins as an ambulance pulls away from the butcher's shop, taking Mick to the hospital after he has carelessly hacked off a finger while preparing John's order. John's wife, Marguerite, and two young children are forced to live with his uncle until he can find work. Marguerite has a brief affair, an escape from the poverty and boredom of day-to-day life - and John, attempting to make amends for Mick's lost finger, is chased down by the butcher's buddies. These tumultuous events all take place during the first twenty-five days of December, leaving each character facing a Christmas of poverty, impossible love and loneliness.
Shena Mackay was born in Edinburgh in 1944. Her writing career began when she won a prize for a poem written when she was fourteen. Two novellas, Dust Falls on Eugene Schlumberger and Toddler on the Run were published before she was twenty. Redhill Rococo won the 1987 Fawcett Prize, Dunedin won a 1994 Scottish Arts Council Book Award, The Orchard on Fire was shortlisted for the 1996 Booker Prize and, in 2003, Heligoland was shortlisted for both the Orange Prize and Whitbread Novel Award. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and lives in Southampton.