No Holly for Miss Quinn
by Miss Reed
(Dora Saint)

Fairacre series
illustrated by J. S. Goodall

Michael Joseph: London, 1976
144 pages

Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 1976
148 pages

included in —

Review by
Jennifer Monroe Franson
Christmas in Fairacre June 2011


Although it opens on an uncharacteristically bleak note, No Holly for Miss Quinn contains some of the funniest scenes in any of the Fairacre books. The title character, who makes her first appearance in this volume, is no fan of Christmas celebrations; instead, Miriam Quinn's cherished holiday plans center on repainting her living room. These plans are derailed, however, when her sister-in-law is hospitalized and Miriam has to step in and care for her clergyman brother's three children over Christmas. In the process, the efficient Miss Quinn — single, self-contained, and unencumbered — gains a new sympathy for the domestic challenges faced by parents of young children and a new appreciation for her brother's hitherto-disdained wife.

While No Holly for Miss Quinn appears along with Village Christmas and The Christmas Mouse in the omnibus Christmas in Fairacre, it is a holiday story only in part. Miriam Quinn first appears on the scene in June, and the book's first three chapters chronicle her introduction to Holly Lodge, just outside the village of Fairacre. Not until the second half of the book does Miss Read take her title character to the wind-whipped fens of Norfolk for the Christmas holiday itself.

In another respect, too, No Holly for Miss Quinn is atypical for a Christmas story: intimations of mortality not only abound, but are brought more starkly into focus than is usual for Miss Read. Miss Quinn comes to live at Holly Lodge only as a result of two unexpected deaths; other untimely deaths are mentioned in passing — all distinctly un-Christmassy points.

Set against these grim notes (and the distinctly uncheery depiction of Norfolk's winter weather), we have the comic chaos of Miriam's attempts to cope with her young nieces and nephew. Toddler Robin — who gnaws on dog biscuits in the local store and on the wooden pew during the Christmas church services — presents a particular challenge to his orderly, well-organized aunt, who returns to Fairacre with a newfound respect for her sister-in-law's wife-and-mother role.

While readers seeking a cozy Christmas tale may prefer Village Christmas or A Christmas Mouse, No Holly for Miss Quinn is a must-read for Fairacre aficionados; because Miriam Quinn and minor character Joan Benson appear again in the series, references to their history may confuse readers who have not met them here. Those willing to accept an admixture of sobering reality with their Christmas cheer will find this a worthy addition to Miss Read’s holiday fare.


© 2011 Jennifer Monroe Franson

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