Frost Fair is not a suitable Christmas choice – or book, for that matter – for fans of the superb verse of Carol Ann Duffy. Packaged by the normally magnificent Picador in a tiny illustrated hard-backed edition resembling 1970s volumes of the Fireside Book of David Hope from the People’s Friend magazine, this volume has obviously been intended to appeal to the ubiquitous Christmas ‘gift’ market and is the sort of thing you’d give to a particularly fussy maiden aunt that you don’t much like. It’s certainly not aimed at Duffy fans.
Measuring approximately one hundred and thirty millimetres by one hundred and thirty millimetres and totalling only forty-four pages, your £7.99 buys you only a single poem – and not one of Duffy’s best pieces at that. The normal indignant opinions, not to mention the flair and sharply barbed wit, that Duffy exhibits in classic collections like The World’s Wife are totally absent here, and this rhyming piece is, at best, a second string example from someone with a voice that normally clamours to be heard. For example, lines like: “I saw a clock too cold to tell the time, a pickpocket’s hand too blue to do the crime, the air more cruel it nipped and bit me when to a tavern, I ordered up mulled wine” are more McGonagall than Duffy, and the poem verges on the mawkish in many places.
Added to that, David De Las Heras’ illustrations are at best vapid and – at their worst – terrible; and, despite some good colour palettes for winter skies, the artist seems unaware of what a British winter would look like and his images do nothing to portray the bitter cold conditions of Duffy’s text or the frozen Thames of 1683.
There is no pleasure in denigrating the work of someone who is greatly admired, but, quite frankly, this book represents exceedingly poor value for money and your eight quid would be better spent buying a couple of pamphlets from up-and-coming poets.