Published by Flatiron Books on October 31st 2017
Genres: Historical Fiction
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Samantha Silva’s Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a charming, heartwarming tale that follows Charles Dickens at a difficult time in his life. Dickens has been a hugely successful writer for years, with each book selling better than the last. That is, until Martin Chuzzlewit, whose sales have unexpectedly flopped. Three weeks before Christmas, Dickens’ publishers pay him a visit to tell him the bad news about his book sales and to issue him an ultimatum: write a heartwarming, best-selling Christmas book in the next three weeks or else face financial ruin.
Needless to say, this does not put Dickens into the Christmas spirit, especially when on top of his bad news, he also has to contend with his family who is expecting the same lavish Christmas that they are used to. Additionally, one of Dickens’ cousins is lurking about because he wants money for an investment, and Dickens’ deadbeat father is also milling around town racking up debts and expecting Charles to take care of them.
Dickens begins to feel backed into a corner and starts to lash out at those around him, eventually driving his wife and children away from their home. At first, Dickens flat out refuses to write a novel on demand because it’s not his style, but ultimately realizes he has no choice and sits down to write. There’s just one problem – he has no inspiration whatsoever and a huge case of writer’s block. Growing increasingly frustrated, Dickens begins to wander aimlessly around the city of London and eventually finds himself on an Ebenezer Scrooge-like journey that ultimately becomes the inspiration for what ends up being his most beloved novel, A Christmas Carol.
There were so many things I loved about this book, but I think the Dickensian atmosphere was what I loved the most. I truly felt like I had been transported back to Victorian London while I was reading. Silva does a marvelous job of capturing all of the sights, sounds, and smells (both the good and the bad!) of the time period and the overall effect was just magical! It was instantly clear that Silva had done her homework, both with respect to Dickens himself and to the time period.
I also loved the way Silva brought Charles Dickens to life for her readers. She portrays him as likable and charming, and yet so flawed and human at the same time. His family means everything to him and he’s worried that he may not be able to take care of them because of his lagging book sales. I really sympathized with what he was going through –everyone wanting something from him because of his success, his wife telling him that he has changed and that she and the children are leaving until he gets himself sorted out, and then having to write a Christmas story on demand in order to keep from falling into financial ruin. It’s a lot for anyone to have to deal with and Dickens also feels the tremendous pressure of up-and-coming writers such as Thackeray and begins to doubt that he can compete with them. Dickens’ frustrations were palpable and so very understandable, as were his feelings of self-doubt. The writer’s block that follows is something that all of us who write can relate to, and I thought it was brilliant that Silva uses all of these pressures she has piled onto Dickens’ shoulders to take him on a Scrooge-like journey of his own, which is what ultimately inspires his writing of A Christmas Carol.
I’m a huge fan of both Dickens and A Christmas Carol, so every time I was reading and happened across a shout out to either A Christmas Carol or one of Dickens’ other works, it made me smile. I thought it was especially fun when he came across names he thought would make good character names and jotted them down, or on other occasions when he met someone he didn’t like and vowed to use them in his book to exact his revenge on them on paper. I also chuckled to myself that Dickens would grumble “Humbug, bah!” when he was in a particularly foul humor and then ended up incorporating the now famous words into his tale, since he obviously modeled Ebenezer Scrooge after himself. In this sense, I would think the book would be a lot of fun for Dickens fans.
Overall, this was such an enjoyable read for me, but I will mention that there were a few spots that were heavy in description, which slowed the pacing a bit. Thankfully though, the lulls were brief and the action picked back up pretty quickly.
Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a charming, heartwarming tale that is perfect for fans of Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, or even just Christmas itself. I personally think it would make a lovely Christmas gift for the Dickens fan in your life.
Shakespeare in Love meets A Christmas Carol in this transporting debut novel set during the whirlwind period in which Dickens wrote his beloved classic, as he embarks on a Scrooge-like journey of his own.
For Charles Dickens, each Christmas has been better than the last. His novels are literary blockbusters, and he is famous on the streets of London, where avid fans sneak up on him to snip off pieces of his hair. He and his wife have five happy children, a sixth on the way, and a home filled with every comfort they could imagine. But when Dickens’ newest book is a flop, the glorious life he has built for himself 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, he accepts, but with relatives hounding him for loans, his wife and children planning an excessively lavish holiday party, and jealous critics going in for the kill, he is hardly feeling the Christmas spirit.
Increasingly frazzled and filled with self-doubt, Dickens seeks solace and inspiration in London itself, his great palace of thinking. And on one of his long walks, in a once-beloved square, he meets a young woman in a purple cloak, who might be just the muse he needs. Eleanor Lovejoy and her young son, Timothy, propel Dickens on a Scrooge-like journey through his Christmases past and present—but with time running out, will he find the perfect new story to save him?
In prose laced with humor, sumptuous Victorian detail, and charming winks to A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva breathes new life into an adored classic. Perfect for fans of Dickens, for readers of immersive historical fiction, and for anyone looking for a dose of Christmas cheer, Mr. Dickens and His Carol is destined to become a perennial holiday favorite.