Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Mr. Dickens and His Carol. Samantha Silva. 2017. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: On that unseasonably warm November day at One Devonshire Terrace, Christmas was not in his head at all. His cravat was loose, top button of his waistcoat undone, study windows flung open as far as they’d go. Chestnut curls bobbed over his dark slate eyes that brightened to each word he wrote: this one, no, that one, scribble and scratch, a raised brow, a tucked chin, a guffaw. Every expression was at the ready, every limb engaged in the urgent deed. Nothing else existed. Not hunger or thirst, not the thrumming of the household above and below—a wife about to give birth, five children already, four servants, two Newfoundlands, a Pomeranian, and the Master’s Cat, now pawing at his quill. Not time, neither past nor future, just the clear-eyed now, and words spilling out of him faster than he could think them. 

 Premise/plot: Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a fictionalized account of how Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. It contains several true facts: the necessity of writing/publishing a Christmas book in such a short period of time; the name of Charles Dickens and his family members; quotes from A Christmas Carol. But it is largely fictional.

It is just a few weeks before Christmas. His wife has just given birth. His publisher has come to him with a demand: write a Christmas book...or else. His last book--his current book, Martin Chuzzlewit--isn't doing well...at all. His publishers NEED a successful book. There is no other way.

Dickens finds himself in need of a MUSE.

My thoughts: This was an extremely entertaining and mostly satisfying read. It is divorced from truth, perhaps. But I found it almost impossible to put down. The chapters just beg to be read right then and there. It helps that they are short chapters too. The writing was delicious. I'll do my best to show you what I mean:
“To whom shall I make it?” “Marley, sir. Jacob. A man who’s never missed a word you’ve written.” “My favorite sort of reader.” Dickens signed with a flourish. He sensed his children watching, felt Mamie squeeze his arm. He handed the album back with a satisfied smile. “Jacob Marley, I am ever in your service.” The gentleman flipped to the page to review his newest get. “Dickens? I thought you was Thackeray!” He tore it out, crumpled it into a ball, and tossed it into the street, stomping away.
The children watched their father’s autograph be further insulted by the wheel of an omnibus clip-clopping past. Dickens narrowed his eyes. “Well. How sad Mr. Marley will be when I introduce him in my new number, only to kill him off in the next.” “He should be dead to begin with,” said young Charley. “Dead as a doornail,” said Katey. “So he shall. So he shall.” The matter settled, Dickens turned for home. His children trooped behind in cautious silence. 
“A tree?” demanded Dickens. “Inside the house?” “A Christmas tree. From Germany.” “Have we no trees in England?” “The Queen and Prince Albert insist on it. It’s a new tradition.” “Traditions are not new, Catherine. They are old. And we cannot afford the ones we have!” 
  “Your past is quicker than you are and will catch you soon enough.”
“Writers told what to write. Readers told what to read. People who do whatever you do … told what to do!” Dickens waved his arms like a windmill gone mad. “And once again, everyone making money on me but me!” 
She nodded, her voice quiet as a prayer. “But every book you’ve ever written is a book about Christmas. About the feeling we must have for one another, without which we are lost.”
Ebenezer Scrooge was waking to a new world, a new self, tears still wet on his face. For a miserable bean counter who had long made a business out of men, he now knew that his business was all mankind. Dickens wept and laughed and wept again. 

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Fanda Kutubuku 9:30 PM  

I think I might like this. Thanks, Becky, for the review! :)

Joy Weese Moll 9:43 PM  

This looks like a fun one. I just heard some good things about the recent movie -- The Man Who Invented Christmas, about Charles Dickens.

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