It’s been a bad decade for mistletoe. In 2010, the Guardian predicted its disappearance within twenty years due to the decline in apple orchards. This year, the drop in demand due to people’s Covid-related reluctance to snog random strangers under its shiny leaves and weirdly translucent white berries has led to the cancellation of its growers’ trade fairs.
But do not fear! Help is at hand. Horror writer, Alison Littlewood, has written a novel named after the stuff, which also doubles up as a substitute cover for any yuletide lip-on-lip action.
However, far be it from me to suggest anyone pursue such non-socially distanced activities in these times, unless it’s within a household or bubble and masks are worn by the participants. So on second thoughts perhaps it’s better just to use the book as intended, and read it. Though I’ve yet to peruse this particular novel, Alison Littlewood is after all a first-rate writer of horror fiction, so I’ve no reason to expect anything less than excellence. Her books are often set in bleak, wintery landscapes, so make for perfect reading at this time of year, on long, cold nights by the fire.
A prime example is Richard and Judy Book Club favourite A Cold Season, which has a scene involving a snowman that lingers long in the mind.
“She took a deep breath and prodded at the snowman’s head. It rocked a little on the body, but it didn’t fall. Then she spread her fingers and prised away the snow, and chunks fell away, revealing what lay beneath, and Cass’ mouth opened, silent but screaming. Her lungs continued to seize the air, dragged it in and pushed it out, but she could not move —
“Then her hand reached out, but stopped short of touching the thing that lay beneath the snow: pink, peeling flesh, ragged and torn.”
And no, it isn’t Parson Brown…
But my favourite of her novels so far are the nineteenth century-set ones The Hidden People and The Crow Garden, the latter of which I’ve already praised highly. As I’ve also mentioned elsewhere, these books are worthy additions to the tradition of neo-Victorian gothic pioneered by Susan Hill with The Woman in Black and Sarah Waters with Affinity and Fingersmith.