The greatest gift of fiction can bring us is the ability to step outside one’s self; To provide a snapshot of a place you’ve never been, a home video of a life you cannot lead. While this may sound a bit high-minded for a sapphic holiday romance, it is undoubtedly the strongest part of A.E. Radley’s A Swedish Christmas Fairy Tale.
Amber is a London publishing executive in charge of acquisitions for children’s books; when the English rights to a Swedish book of fairy tales comes available, her boss sends her (literally) to Sweden to get the contract signed. Due to the reclusive and insular nature of the rights-holder (the author’s granddaughter, Emilia), all business must be conducted in-person, face-to-face. Thus begins the whirlwind encounters between the two seeming opposites (the hermit and the “party every night” city girl).
All the better that it’s set at Christmas, which gives us ample details of not only everyday Scandinavian living but also some of the unique holiday traditions that are always a joy to read about.
It seems a universal truth that no one person can ever truly understand the thoughts and feelings of another perfectly. We all assign different connotations to the same words, interpret inflections and facial expressions differently, and bring our personal understanding of the world to bear in every situation. Fiction, to me, can be among the most helpful avenues to bridging the gap between people, because the entire inner monologue is laid bare. Each reader or listener will still bring their own baggage and understanding and emotional landscape to bear, of course, but at least those things must be applied through the viewpoint of another.
This is where Fairy Tale shines; though the characters are a bit archetypal, their somewhat stereotypical trappings are draped across a rich groundwork of humanity and character.
Where Emilia’s limited view and understanding of the world would bother the average reader (who could live without a cell phone?), her reaction is believable because she lacks the context to even understand what we think she’s missing out on. Amber’s laser-like focus on her career at a firm that is mostly likely actively holding her back (and terrible for her mental well-being) doesn’t feel inauthentic because I’ve felt and know many others who’ve felt that the need to have a paycheck is more important than finding the ideal workplace.
Independently, aspects like those can feel like the author forcing on a tight sweater that doesn’t quite fit, but the characters’ personalities are so well developed that everything seems to slide right on. Even the rising action that brings the two back together (no spoilers)—altogether too contrived and weirdly atonal for my taste—gave me no problems when it came to understanding and completely believing the characters’ reactions and responses.
If you’re looking for lots of hot, steamy sex, this is not the book for you. If, however, you look to romance to see two people with unique outlooks on life learning how to come together and be with one another, Fairy Tale provides a lovely little Christmas story.