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  • Claire Wong

Book review: Talking to Calippa Cumberland by Chick Yuill

This week I've been reading a new novel set on Christmas Eve, and today I'm joining the blog tour to celebrate its launch.

'Talking to Calippa Cumberland' is a story that follows the life of Lori Bloom over a series of Christmas Eves, starting in 1976 and running up to 2019. As a small child, Lori overhears an announcement that a girl is lost in a shopping centre. Lori becomes fixated on this little girl, 'Calippa Cumberland', and over the years that follow, she adopts her as an imaginary friend and writes letters to her. And Lori, it turns out, has a lot she needs to share! Her story encompasses family upheaval, bereavement, betrayal, relationships, health struggles and career changes.


The structure of this book reminded me of 'One Day' by David Nicholls, in the way that we see snapshots of the protagonist's life on a single day over a period of many years. It's as if we've been given fragments of a diary to read and piece together the story. Curiously, the writing style combines the immediacy of present tense first person, with the reflection and awareness that comes from hindsight.


What I found striking, and poignant, is the way that other characters pass in and out of Lori's life over the years. Friends who are close and integral to her life in the middle of the novel no longer feature by the end. And this is an understated realism that the novel employs: it doesn't shy away from putting the protagonist through some heart-breaking struggles and showing her very believable reactions.


But there's another character I really want to talk about here, whom I enjoyed reading about even more than Lori. Madge Timms is the wise, older woman who becomes Lori's unlikely friend and housemate. She's kind, sharp-witted, good-humoured, and a great picture of the gentle bravery it takes to intervene in someone's life when they might not know what they need. She's the perfect person for a fireside chat over hot chocolate. I might have thought her unrealistically wonderful, except that I've met people a lot like Madge. If there's anything I've taken from this book, it's a renewed appreciation for these people, who invite others into their homes, become an extension of family, and are unafraid of big, searching questions. If you don't have a Madge Timms in your life, go and find one! And if you do, maybe go and buy her a bunch of flowers to say thank you. 'Talking to Calippa Cumberland' may be a Christmas story, in that it's full of festive gatherings, carol services, wintry weather, expressions of faith, and found family, but it's also a sweeping, surprising story of a life spent searching for that feeling of belonging.


The author, Chick Yuill, is a speaker, writer and broadcaster, and this is his sixth novel to be published by Instant Apostle.

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