In Mr. Dickens and His Carol, a debut novel, Samantha Silva has taken on a fiction retelling of how the iconic book A Christmas Carol came to be.
The setting is mid-19th century Europe, and her London is a “great floating pageant.” In Silva’s magical reinterpretation, Charles Dickens’ work is no longer selling well and he is contractually obligated to write a short Christmas book to recover the losses.
The novel is a marvel of gorgeous lyrical yet melancholy prose, which is surely a tribute to its hero. The mood is the epitome of “firelight, wine-light, friend-light.” The story is at times heartbreaking but pierced by humor, with a plot that contains little subtlety as the back story falls neatly into place. However, it is Eleanor Lovejoy and her tiny son Timothy, Silva’s riff on the muses for A Christmas Carol, who lead to some of the book’s most poignant moments. “We are all lost, all broken,” said Eleanor, “Trying desperately to be whole again.”
Mr. Dickens and His Carol is at its eerie, enchanting best when Silva dwells on Dickens’ relationship with his art. “That first vertiginous thrill of being alone to do whatever he pleased, write whenever he wanted.” Or this: “He filled his lungs and closed his eyes, surprised to find his mental museum just where he’d left it, corridors stacked high, shelves overflowing.”
The writing doesn’t always come effortlessly. There are long midnight walks around London to cure his writer’s block and insomnia. But ultimately, his books are the source of great love in his world. “He knew that the end of this book was a beginning of their life without him, and he must let them be born into the world, and welcomed, as he felt sure they would be. Still, how grateful he was to have know them at all.” Isn’t that beautiful?
The result is a book that will make you fall in love with Dickens and Christmas and every one.
Best paired with cognac, turkey, goose, mince pie, filberts, candied fruits and a Christmas pudding, of course.