I love the lead-up to Christmas, and even the onset of a seasonal cold/mini flu, can’t knock the stuffing out of me when Paris is at its most scintillating. Last weekend, sniffling, and curled up in my armchair, with Ally Bunbury’s, “All Wrapped Up”, and hot chocolate, was a perfect pre-Christmas treat.

This page-turner is Ally Bunbury’s third novel. The previous two were blockbusters, and I am looking forward to getting my hands on “The Inheritance” and “Infidelity”. In between her unputdownable novels, Ally also keeps her readers entertained with frequent articles in the Irish Times.

She is married to renowned historian, writer, podcaster, and TV personality Turtle Bunbury, and they live with their daughters in the Irish countryside. Now, if you are suddenly thinking “oh no, a power, literary couple” you are on the wrong track. They could well be, but they are both such a refreshing mixture of success, intelligence, and fun with a tendency to regard their glamorous lives as being quite ordinary.

I had the pleasure to converse with both of them, when organizing an event, in O'Sullivans Franklin D. Roosevelt. Turtle zoomed in and regaled us with stories of amazing Irish characters from his book “The Irish Diaspora”. O’Sullivans Franklin D. Roosevelt is one of my favorite Irish pubs in Paris. It’s a great location, just off the Champs-Élysées, and has many eclectic spaces for events, including its library and covered patio.

“All Wrapped Up”

“All Wrapped Up”, might echo Ally and Turtle’s own county lifestyle in ways, as there is the definite, attractive mixture of "PR meets country life and Labradors and wellies meets glitzy bling bling." Before being a novelist Ally enjoyed a successful career in PR.

The characters in the book literally jump out of the pages, and what I also loved was Ally’s brilliant wordsmithery and being brought up to date with fashion and glamour, against the backdrop of Knockboden, a beautiful but crumbling country house in the foothills of the Dublin mountains. Along with great writing, the pure feel-good of the book was a guilty pleasure, which I only reluctantly put down to top up my hot chocolate and to indulge in the forbidden mince-pies I had bought and put by for Christmas, “mar dhea”. Why do I fall into that trap of scurrying around Paris, on Christmas Eve, to try to find mince pies, to replace the packet(s) guzzled in advance, every year?

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In the opening pages of “All Wrapped Up”, the protagonist, Christmas-phobic, commitment-phobic Holly leaves her reliable, but overly predictable fiancé. Desperate to escape the repercussions of her decision, she flees London and goes home to Ireland to work as personal assistant to the incorrigible Serena Harper, the aging, still glamorous proprietor of Knockboden. Serena has a touch of Edina Monsoon the protagonist of the TV series Absolutely Fabulous. We suspect from the outset, that there might be a heart of gold underneath her glamorous, blasé, gin-swilling, and 70-year-old leopard-skin-clad exterior. She dishes out pearls of wisdom to the much younger Holly, “Failure is not an option. It’s time to buck up and sweep a comb through our hair”. 

Unexpectedly, and because of Holly’s social media efforts, Knockboden becomes the location for a reality TV Christmas special, in which high-profile social media couple Jake Lyford and Olivia Stack plan to live stream their wedding on Christmas Eve. Holly has six weeks to get the crumbling house ‘Insta-ready’. As Holly mucks out “wardrobes so deeply cluttered they would have stretched the imagination of C. S. Lewis”, we literally see the house transformation, as well as vicariously enjoying the many “Bridget Jones” like glitches on the way to hopefully Christmas-style opulence.

Serena’s handsome, tetchy and recently divorced son, Tyrone, strongly disapproves of the house being farmed out for showbiz. While Holly wrestles with the irony of working on a Christmas wedding show, she realizes that, even with the TV cameras rolling, her new boss Serena just can no longer afford the upkeep of her beloved home.

As the wedding day approaches, and plans for the wrap party crescendo, both Holly and Serena are about to discover that Jake and Olivia might not be the only ones about to get their happy ever after. Santy Claus is generous to the protagonists, many of whom, even the not-so-young, have a sort of coming-of-age epiphany. We find ourselves rooting for fabulous Farrah, the mature TV presenter, working in a world where youth is paramount.

Thinking forward to Christmas 2023, I hope “All Wrapped Up” might appear on our screens as a Christmas movie. In the meantime, get yourself some Christmas cheer, and ask Santy to bring you the hilarious and heartwarming “All Wrapped UP” for Christmas 2022.

For more, visit AllyBunbury.com.

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