It’s that time of year again – time for me to blog about one of my favorite books, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Recently, my library book-club chose Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva – a fictionalized account of how this famous book came to be written.
Publishers Blurb: Charles Dickens is not feeling the Christmas spirit. His newest book is an utter flop, the critics have turned against him, relatives near and far hound him for money. While his wife plans a lavish holiday party for their ever-expanding family and circle of friends, Dickens has visions of the poor house. But when his publishers try to blackmail him into writing a Christmas book to save them all from financial ruin, he refuses. And a serious bout of writer’s block sets in.
Frazzled and filled with self-doubt, Dickens seeks solace in his great palace of thinking, the city of London itself. On one of his long night walks, in a once-beloved square, he meets the mysterious Eleanor Lovejoy, who might be just the muse he needs. As Dickens’ deadlines close in, Eleanor propels him on a Scrooge-like journey that tests everything he believes about generosity, friendship, ambition, and love. The story he writes will change Christmas forever.
Discussion: I’ve blogged before (see link) about The Man Who Invented Christmas, by Les Standiford, a non-fiction book which delved into the history of Dickens classic tale, and the inspiration for the plot and characters. Ms. Silva’s book is historical fiction, and common to the genre, she has taken great liberties, first in imagining his muse – a lady he met on the streets of London during his customary night-time wanderings while plotting out his books. Having read several biographies of Dickens life I’m fairly certain no such woman existed, but as he is reputed to have left his wife and ten children for a much younger actress towards the end of his life, perhaps that is where she got the idea? In this book his wife and children depart for Scotland, angry over Dickens decision to pay an impromptu visit to his first love, and he is left alone to ponder his problems. (Serves him right – maybe he was a bit of a player?) Second, we’re a hundred pages in before the woman-of-mystery-muse is introduced, and not one word has yet been written, but as I recall Dickens wrote his novella over the course of six weeks, not two as she says. I guess I like my historical fiction to be somewhat factual. Third, was the inspiration for Scrooge, Dickens himself? The idea is intriguing, and she has a plausible explanation for the age difference, but somehow it just doesn’t translate.
The book jacket describes the author as a writer and screenwriter from Idaho, and she mentions several near misses in selling the script to Hollywood. As this and the Standiford book (a much better book, if a mediocre movie) came out the same year (2017), she decided to adapt it into a novel instead. That must be frustrating for an author – to find out someone else has a similar idea, especially after you’ve poured your heart into it. For a debut novel, it is well-written, in a style somewhat reminiscent of Dickens.
As I’m only half way through, it wouldn’t be fair to critique it too harshly, but it’s light fluffy fare – but then sometimes that’s exactly what you need, especially at Christmas. Save the heavy stuff for the fruitcake. I’m not sure why the book-club chose this, but it’s no fault of the librarians, as they’re limited to the book club kits purchased by someone else. Perhaps it was just a seasonal selection which sounded promising. The chapters are short, the plot thin, and I’m not sure what there would have been to discuss but as the book-club is now virtual, perhaps they just toasted with some hot rum punch and wished everyone a Merry Christmas.
Merry Christmas and God Bless Us Everyone!
(Edited to add – I stayed up late last night and finished it, and the last fifty pages and ending were surprisingly good! – so I would give it a 3 out of 5)