A Christmas with Winston

Corinne Desarzens

French, Editions La Baconnière, 2022

“A celebration should be enjoyed twice. The first time with gusto. The second time hesitantly, seeing visions and omens everywhere.”

“Is this a mere detail? It’s difficult to avoid the pitfalls between the material and the immaterial, to navigate through the jagged rocks that are the words relevant and irrelevant. Winston’s interest in these pigs is suggestive of his predisposition for surrounding himself with interesting, intelligent and entertaining characters and individuals, irrespective of class.”

“During these months, with the V twisting in his mind to blot it out, the certainty and awareness of time passing were a source of suffering, as the hours sped by, resistant to illusion. Winston would allow himself a brief siesta then work through the night, with Pim waiting in the wings ready to take over at dawn. Plotting the war. A Penelope who must set everything straight.”

When it comes to Churchill, so much ink has been spilled that it would seem there is little left to say. However, it’s not Churchill Corinne Desarzens wants to tell us about. It’s Winston she’s interested in.

Winston is the man behind the Prime Minister – the disappointed father, the wearer of antelope-skin slippers, the gambler, the bon vivant. Corinne Desarzens has formed an attachment to this captivating man and has brought him back to life in an innovative ‘show-not-tell’ approach to the biographical form. In short, incisive chapters she offers a glimpse into every aspect of Winston’s life, from the momentous to the mundane, including periods of rest, reflection and lassitude. She narrates the facts, feelings and characters but relates them to the everyday lived experience of the reader, drawing on contemporary references and anecdotes to elucidate her subject.

Through the pages of the book, the Winston, whose surname is never used, becomes real. A childhood marred by frustration and money troubles, time spent at the dinner table, discussions about science and poetry recitals – these seemingly inconsequential details serve to flesh out this flamboyant public figure, the ‘Old lion’ with his unpredictable moods. From the Map Room, we are given a fly-on-the-wall perspective of major historical events like succeeding Chamberlain, the D-Day landings and the Yalta Conference, hearing ministers referred to by their nicknames and witnessing the table manners of guests. Ultimately, these seemingly insignificant details are key to understanding the character, his actions and his influence.

From his fall from grace to his redemption, from fragility to risk-taking, from moodiness to reflection, Desarzens gives us a warts-and-all view of Winston as she sees him, making the character her own throughout the pages of her book. The reader will come to reassess this multi-faceted individual and see him through new eyes, gaining fresh insight from the author’s asides,delivered in a powerful narrative style that reflects the unpredictability of her subject, both cryptic and to the point… Christmas is a time for taking stock and Desarzens offers a poetic take on Winston, making him relatable both as world leader and as a human being.

Text by Katia Dubey

Un Noël avec Winston
Editions La Baconnière
Translation rights
Yoann Bernard, direction@swissbooksagency.ch
Publication date
September 2022


Corinne Desarzens

Born in Sète in 1952, Corinne Desarzens is a Franco-Swiss writer and journalist with a degree in Russian. Passionate about languages and the art of capturing conversations, she’s a sometime translator, author of novels, short stories and travelogues including ‘Un Roi’ (Grasset, 2011) and ‘L’Italie, c’est toujours bien’ (La Baconnière, 2017).She is among the great stylists of French-speaking Switzerland. She won the Prix suisse de littérature award in 2020.

Photo: ©: HOMLausanne