Book Review: A Boy Called Christmas

A Boy Called Christmas
Matt Haig, 2015

I knew the movie based on this book was coming out this year, so I decided to give it a read first. I'm writing this review before we see the film, or even watch a trailer.

Hopefully, the adaptation will decide on a tone.

I need to preface this review by admitting that I have never been a fan of Roald Dahl. This book often dips into a very similar style, so if that kind of violence-for-laughs from absurdly cruel or nonsensical characters is something you enjoy, you might enjoy this book, as so many apparently have. 

I enjoyed parts of this book, but the tone kept swinging between absurdist children's book, outright farce, mythic/fairytale, and actually serious adventure. Every time I started to really get interested, the story took another weird turn.

It's a story about a boy who "believes in magic" and grows up to be Santa, but it's vague and inconsistent in its historical setting. A modern storybook narration sometimes works well and sometimes undercuts emotional moments.

The first plot element that turned me off was the female relative who's an extreme and inexplicable hater of children - I think that story is more than a bit played out at this point.

The plot follows Nikolas as he seeks out a mythical elven village in search of his father. Aspects really worked for me, like when the boy's kindness led to help unasked for and won him animal helpers. But everything about the elves is bizarre - almost a satire of modern politics, but not in a way that's compelling for either children or adults. 

The sequence when Nikolas confronts the men trying to prove the existence of elves is mostly effective and emotionally resonant, but it's sandwiched between sequences that include needless toilet humor or weirdly shallow treatment of extreme violence.

I wanted to like this, and I definitely did like parts of it. Moments here and there I downright loved! Unfortunately, it was a slog to get to those parts sometimes, and then the entire last section felt both rushed and unnecessary.

I think the right cuts and the right actors could do a lot for this material, so hopefully the movie will expand on the better aspects.