Title: Mr. Dickens and His Carol
Author: Samantha Silva
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Faber Factory Plus/Allison and Busby/Allen and Unwin
Published: 22nd November 2017
Synopsis: ‘A charming, comic, and ultimately poignant Christmas tale about the creation of the most famous Christmas tale ever written. It’s as foggy and haunted and redemptive as the original; it’s all heart, and I read it in a couple of ebullient, Christmassy gulps.’ Anthony Doerr, bestselling author of All The Light We Cannot See
For Charles Dickens, each Christmas has been better than the last. His novels are literary blockbusters, avid fans litter the streets and he and his wife have five happy children and a sixth on the way. But when Dickens’ latest book, Martin Chuzzlewit, is a flop, the glorious life threatens to collapse around him.
His publishers offer an ultimatum: either he writes a Christmas book in a month, or they will call in his debts, and he could lose everything. Grudgingly, and increasingly plagued by self-doubt, Dickens meets the muse he needs in Eleanor Lovejoy and her young son, Timothy. With time running out, Dickens is propelled on a Scrooge-like journey through Christmases past and present.
‘Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a charming, comic, and ultimately poignant Christmas tale about the creation of the most famous Christmas tale ever written. It’s as foggy and haunted and redemptive as the original; it’s all heart, and I read it in a couple of ebullient, Christmassy gulps.’ Anthony Doerr, bestselling author of All The Light We Cannot See
Mr Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva focuses on what drove Dickens to write his most famous story, A Christmas Carol in 1843. In this novel, Dickens has been approached by his publishers, whose grave news of the failure of Martin Chuzzlewit over in America starts to eat away at him, and his usually charitable donations he gives out. For economic reasons, they encourage Dickens to write a Christmas story. In Silva’s version, these events happen not long before Christmas, with the book published days before Christmas. Silva has Dickens go through a similar transformation to Scrooge, though his reasons for wanting to cut back are presented as economic struggles rather than a selfish desire for money. On his journey, Dickens encounters the homeless and impoverished children of London, and a young woman named Eleanor Lovejoy, and her son, Timothy – who inspire the version we know and love today.
This fictional retelling of how Dickens came to write one of the best loved Christmas stories in the world draws from threads of information and biography that the author collected, and showed that someone many people depended on, a man whose heart was big, could be crippled by the very thing his books made social commentary about: poverty, or near poverty. Dickens was plagued by debts at the time, but the demands on his aid and from family didn’t stop – nor did they take him seriously in the novel when he said he couldn’t help. For Dickens, a chance meeting with the Lovejoys gives him the inspiration he needs to write the book that people all around the world know and love today: A Christmas Carol.
The London that Dickens inhabits leaps from the page, fog and all, just as it is in his books. His time alone with the Lovejoys is akin to the journey of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, where Dickens finds his way back to family and Christmas, and the magic in his heart that makes him the kind and generous man everyone knows he is. It is a heart-warming story, and portrays Dickens as merely human, a man who just likes to write and wants the best for his family, but also feels pressure from outside forces to do everything and please everyone. As an aspiring author, one line stuck with me, where Dickens is talking to his publishers and they are telling him what audiences want. His response about writers having to be told what to write by an audience even then shows the pressure authors are under to please an audience of readers. Despite this attitude, Dickens ended up writing a wonderful story that illustrates what Christmas is about, and the meaning of family and humanity, reflecting the attitudes of what it meant to be rich and poor in Victorian London.
I enjoyed this, even though it was a fictional reimaging of the journey Dickens took to write A Christmas Carol because it allowed an insight into what kind of journeys a writer goes on, and how they come to write certain books. The fog, and the cobblestones were as real as the figures that populated Dickens world and the young pauper boys who followed him around, wanting to put on a play of his work, and wanting to be immortalised as characters on the page. Silva has used research and her imagination in a wonderful union to recreate this time in Dickens’ life, and I will be aiming to read it again this coming December, alongside my other Christmas books.
I read this after Christmas as it arrived in early January from Allen and Unwin, but it is one that will make a great Christmas read, and enjoyable to read beside A Christmas Carol. I loved this book and I think fans of Dickens, lovers of Christmas and literature will enjoy this delightful book.