O Books, 2009

ISBN 978-1-84694-199-3

Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain


Is it a novel? Is it a screenplay? What on earth (or in heaven) is it? Vincent Tilsley’s Holy Night is unlike anything else I have ever read. It also stirred up more excitement in me than any book I have read in a long time and stretched my mind to its furthest limits.

Be warned – this is not a simple book by any means. It will entertain you and intrigue you but it will also make you think. Although in one sense it reads like a ‘ripping yarn’ and its sci-fi elements are worthy of Star Wars, it also stretches the intellect in rather the same way that Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance did. (I would love to see Holy Night become a cult classic as that one did. It certainly deserves to).

You need to pay close attention to the story, for everything changes, second by second and time does strange things. In fact, there are several stories happening at once as though you were watching a bank of screens all tuned to different channels. You’ll find the characters, too, watching multiple screens and following several stories.

It would be a challenge to any writer to create a book in this format. But Tilsley manages it, and does so superbly. This is where the skills he honed in his 20 years as a TV scriptwriter must have come in handy. Though Holy Night is, I must say, a very long way from ‘Prisoner’ and ‘Dr Finlay’s Casebook’!

It is a hard book to describe, since it is so unlike anything else. Basically, it is a story about good and evil, emotion and intellect, mind and spirit. It tells the tale of a relationship between an impulsive, emotional, creator and his perfectionistic, high-tech counterpart – a relationship of love and loathing, fear and longing, denial and intimate, eternal, inescapable connection.

Holy Night is funny, irreverent, shocking, witty … and utterly profound. You will either ‘get it’ or you won’t. I fear a lot of people may not. But for those who do, it may leave you, as it left me, with a sense of speechless delight in the privilege of being a bumbling, struggling yet awesomely creative ordinary human being, reinventing the world in every moment. If you really do ‘get it’, then for a while, after you close the cover, everything sparkles.