“A good biography tells us the truth about a person; a good story, the truth about ourselves.”
Where to begin with this charming little historical fiction novel, based on the life and work of one Mr. Charles Dickens? I’m told that, “to begin at the beginning,” is usually the best place, so let’s give that a try.
First, Samantha Silva is upfront about the fact that this is historical fiction, mostly imagined but based on real people and events. I originally mistook the novel for something more on the “historical” side than the “fictional” side, which left me at first feeling a little disappointed by the reaches, the suggestions, and the supernatural elements. (Yes, I said supernatural!)
But when I took a moment to reflect on the fact that this is historical fiction and to concentrate on the work as fiction, Mr. Dickens and His Carol revealed itself to me to be a charming, honest, and loving work by an author who clearly knows, respects, and admires Dickens the writer and historical figure. Much of his real life struggles and successes are represented, here, including his problematic family members, his issues with marriage, his debts, and his interesting relationship with the mysterious.
One element in particular that almost turned me off is that supernatural component, but then I considered how fascinated Dickens himself was with these sorts of phenomena and how his later works incorporated many similar devices; this made the presence of a “real life” Dickensian brush with the inhuman bizarrely realistic and a little bit fun.
I do think Dickens’s wife gets a rather harsh treatment in this work, but I admit to not knowing much about her (if it’s based in reality, well, okay; if this is one of the more fictional elements, then ouch.) His rivals, too, such as Thackeray and Collins, are made out to be rather petty and pompous. He himself is also rather delicately handle; he is not written without flaws, but in most situations he comes out the better figure, and I’m not sure how realistic that is, either. Still, if you like Dickens and if you like the idea of a Dickensian version of A Christmas Carol, which is a kind of meta-fiction simultaneously about A Christmas Carol and about its creator, then this one is worth the read. I find it especially appropriate as a holiday read, but perhaps that much should be obvious.
“Children were an act of optimism—sheer belief that the future will outshine the present.”
“Words were inadequate, but all he had. He didn’t know where they came from or why, but it was how we told one another what the world was and might be. Who we were, and might become. It was the only magic he had.”