American author Samantha Silva has previously written screenplays but this is her first novel. Her previous writing experience shows clearly in this fictional tale of how Charles Dickens came to write his famous book with coincidences stretched to breaking point – far more reminiscent of a movie than a novel. When the author used her own imagination to describe Dickens’ long midnight walks with the London fog hovering, rolling and creeping around him she is on much surer ground.
The premise of the tale is Dickens’ last book Martin Chuzzlewhit has not been selling well and the publishers want a new book for Christmas. His anxiety about money and need for public acclaim results in quarrels with his wife Catherine. Silva, who has described her book as almost a love letter to her favourite author, follows the tendency of previous writers to view his wife and children as a distraction to the great man and so packs them off to Scotland in her tale.
This leaves the way clear for a romantic interlude with young Eleanor Lovejoy and her son Timothy, to whom Dickens gives a crutch when he injures his leg, of course linking him to Tiny Tim. This may well represent a gentler fictionalisation of the real life affair Dickens had with the actress Ellen Ternan. When he fell in love with Ellen, he left his wife of twenty years and in order to keep control of the children and maintain his public standing and position, Dickens alleged Catherine was mentally ill and an unfit mother.
It is clear Silva has a great admiration for Dickens, as a person and an author, as she weaves in both biographical and historical details into Mr Dickens and His Carol. We see him meet Maria Beadnell, his first love, over the tea table indulging in the new-fangled idea of taking tea in the afternoon. There are also some tiresome puns and snippets from A Christmas Carol and many other Dickens stories.
I’m pleased this is a short read at fewer than 300 pages as I found Dickens’ self-pity and selfishness less than engaging.
Reviewed by: Jan Kershaw
Rating out of 10: 6
Distributed by: Murdoch Books
Released: December 2017