The novel “Faith Fox” by acclaimed British writer Jane Gardam is a brilliant holiday story of one eccentric family coming together in the face of tragedy. With a cast of characters spanning geographies, economic classes, and religions, Gardam’s sympathetic, humorous portrayal of relatives fumbling across divides is just as engaging and relevant as it was when the novel first appeared in the UK in the 1990s — the novel has been rereleased for the holidays.
It opens with tragedy: It’s the mid-1990s in Surrey, England, and Holly Fox, 28, a vivacious woman who “shone with health” who “never looked weather-beaten or awry but always, even in deep November, bronzy and smooth” dies suddenly during childbirth.
She left behind a healthy baby girl and a mismatched family completely ill-equipped to care for a child — or talk about their feelings. The result is a heartfelt calamity of errors: Holly’s wealthy widowed mother runs from her grief and into the arms of a new man; Holly’s husband Andrew, an overworked doctor, enlists the help of a hung over young nanny — with predictable results. Finally, Pammie, a neighbor, convinces Andrew to turn the child over to his relatives in Yorkshire, who never quite got over him “marrying south” and leaving his country roots behind.
Faith is to be raised by Andrew’s brother Jack, who runs a commune of sorts with his family, two reformed burglars, and a cast of Tibetan refugees. While Andrew’s genial parents, Dotty and Toots, have concerns, Faith receives a soft, if unusual, landing in this new environment. Her homecoming serves as a catalyst for change as the family is forced to reconcile grievances in order to support Faith’s future.
There’s a lot going on here, but there’s a lot going on in every family. Gardam carefully builds the web of connections with short chapters and punchy dialogue, so we keep up with past ill-fated love affairs, misunderstandings, and new alliances. Never sentimental, always entertaining, “Faith Fox” is a perfect novel about an imperfect family.