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Winter Solstice - Second Chances at Love. A Review
A Love Story
I have just finished a most heart-warming love story, one about second chances at life, one of those books I have reread several times over the years. Each time I read it, it is new again and takes me into the lives of many enchanting people with whom I would love to have been friends. This is an evergreen story of a couple in the autumn of their lives, risking second chances at love.
Elfrida, a sixty-something one-time not-very-famous London actress, flees to a little country town, Dibton, as soon as she is pensionable, looking for a second chance at life on her own terms. She buys a tiny cottage with her life savings and rescues a dog, Horace, from the pound. Making the occasional high-end cushions for a London decorator keeps her in pocket money.
Little country towns are known for adopting stray immigrants, and Elfrida is pulled into the family of Oscar, the church organist, his rich wife, Gloria and their eight year old child, Francesca. Oscar was a bit past middle age when Gloria proposed to him after her husband's death, and Francesca was a delightful surprise to him when she was born. Gloria, with two grown sons, is blasé about her daughter. They moved to Dibton when she was a small child so she could keep her animals. This is the family Elfrida grows very fond of.
Elfrida has a cousin,Jeffrey, in , with a young wife and two little children. He has left his pretty, prim, self-centered, materialistic wife and a lucrative investment job in London to live in genteel poverty and contentment with his new family. After waiting for his first lot of children to grow up, Jeffrey now has a second chance at love and happiness. Elfrida visits them and stays for a month. To Jeffrey, she was always the glamorous older cousin who used to visit him in boarding school and take him out for treats, and he has always adored her. Cornwall
While Elfrida is away, Oscar suffers a devastating loss. Gloria, a known tippler without actually being a drunk, is driving Francesca home from a Guy Fawkes night fireworks party. It is a stormy night, and at a roundabout, she goes the wrong way, straight into an articulated truck. Oscar has retreated into himself, and has turned away from a cruel God. He has spurned the music he had loved all his life. When Elfrida turns up, he accepts her presence, but is in a deep depression.
The Scottish House
Oscar soon has to leave the house, as Gloria's sons want to sell it. Not foreseeing her own early demise, Gloria has made no provision for Oscar, and he has no plans to retire to an old folks' home. But many years before, his grandmother had left a large house in the north of to Oscar and his cousin, with whom he has had no contact since. Now the caretakers have recently retired, so the house is empty. The house is called Coreydale, near the town of Creagan.. Scotland
Elfrida persuades Oscar to move to this Scottish house and with her promise to make the trip with him, he goes. There in the wild north, is a close country community and Elfrida soon makes friends. Oscar keeps to himself, shunning friendly overtures from the town's pastor and his young family. Oscar keeps having nightmares that wake him up crying and desolate.
Carrie and Lucy, the Lost Lambs
Into this scenario comes Carrie, Jeffrey's daughter, who has left a glamorous ski job in Austria after her affair with a married banker ends. She is home in London. When she visits her mother and sister, she sees her very unwanted, unhappy niece, fourteen year old Lucy. It is nearly Christmas, and nobody wants her around, not her grandmother nor her mother nor her father with his new wife. Each one has an excuse. Carrie at once takes charge of Lucy.
Carrie tracks down Elfrida through her father, and persuades Elfrida to ask her and Lucy for Christmas. Elfrida, delighted, tells Oscar, and they fly up, Lucy with a beautiful new wardrobe given her by her mother and Carrie. Oscar puts Elfrida at her ease as to how he would feel about having Lucy, a girl so close to his own daughter's age. In fact he and Lucy become fast friends. .
Lucy is soon drawn into the family life of the pastor, and becomes very fond of the eighteen year old son, Rory .
All Snowed In
In the meantime, Sam Howard comes to Creagan, looking to maybe buy the house Oscar partly owns. He has met Oscar's cousin by chance in London and intimated that he is looking to move up north for his job and needs a house. True to character, cousin Hughie forgot to mention Oscar and Sam presumes Hughie owns the house. Sam is newly divorced from his American wife.
A couple of days from Christmas Eve, with a snowstorm that threatens to intensify, he arrives at the house and rings the bell when Carrie is home alone with a cold.The others have gone to the pastor's for a Christmas party. From a stiff first meeting, she thaws and makes him stay on when there is a forecast of a blistering snowstorm. The house, she muses, seems to attract lost waifs.
The Christmas Story Cast
The bundle of people thrown together days before Christmas gets along very well. Together and separately they plan for a big party, shopping, cleaning and polishing and cooking. Carrie is still haunted by her failed love affair. Oscar is recovering bit by bit, through the magic of the glorious season. His nightmares have receded and he wakes up one morning with a smile and a warm glow from dreaming about Francesca. He goes one day into the Church that he has never stepped foot into before. Lucy is blooming among all these people she loves. Elfrida keeps a motherly eye on them all and has confided to Carrie that she and Oscar have been a couple for a while, starting when she first went in to comfort him when he had had a nightmare.
Sam has managed to crack through Carrie's reserve and unhappiness and there is a growing understanding between them.
Christmas Eve, the pastor makes a hasty phone call to Oscar, who relays the message that the organist has become ill and they will only have piped music for the Christmas service. All are aghast.
Christmas morning, Oscar disappears before everybody leaves for Church. When they enter, they are assailed by the powerful strains of 'Ode to Joy', with its promise of hope and renewal, and they know Oscar has come home.
They have a wonderful, joyous Christmas party with all their friends. This group of disparate people who found refuge in the big old house which wove its powerful love spells, are now a close family. Oscar agrees to sell his share of the house to Sam, who is waiting for Carrie to accept his love.
Love is Wonderful, the Second Time Around.
Oscar and Elfrida take over a smaller house nearby and plan to renovate it to have room for Lucy, whom they are planning to keep in Scotland for her schooling. Her mother approves wholeheartedly. Lucy is ecstatic, for she will be near Rory, though he is planning to go to the Himalayas for his Gap Year. Oscar has asked Elfrida to marry him, for how would it look to other people if they had a child live with them without their being married?
This is such a satisfying story. If you want to read it yourself, it's called 'Winter Solstice', by Rosamunde Pilcher, a celebrated novelist and short story writer who lives in Perthshire, Scotland. I could wish to have written such a love story myself.
Older people are just as capable of falling in love as younger ones, and with the wisdom and patience born of living, are more likely to make their love work. When your second chance comes around, grab it with both hands and have faith, believe in the power and magic of love.