“Mr. Dickens and His Carol” by Samantha Silva; Flatiron Books; October 2017; $24.99; 276 pp.
By Ann Jonas
For The Visitor
Watching a theater production or movie version of “A Christmas Carol” is a holiday tradition for many of us. With the movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas” now showing on the big screen, interest in Charles Dickens and his Christmas tale is even greater this holiday season.
While the new Dickens movie is an adaptation of a nonfiction book by the same name, author and screenwriter Samantha Silva has written a new fictionalized account of Dickens and his writing of “A Christmas Carol” titled “Mr. Dickens and His Carol.”
Silva’s story begins in November 1843 with Charles Dickens feeling exuberant as he has just finished a sequel to his latest novel, “Martin Chuzzlewit.” His wife is soon to give birth to their sixth child, he has four servants and his life is good.
When his publishers pay him an unexpected visit, his exuberance turns to dismay as they inform him that his recent novel is a flop, not selling nearly as well as his bestsellers “Nicholas Nickleby” or “Oliver Twist.” They are not interested in his sequel, but insist that he quickly pen a Christmas tale to be published right before the holiday. There will be a monetary penalty if it can’t be accomplished.
Suddenly, Dickens becomes churlish to everyone he encounters as the pressures of writing a new book, supporting his growing family, helping out his needy father and brother, and the anticipated expense of Christmas all weigh on his mind.
And he has complete writer’s block — no inspirations or ideas for this Christmas tale he must write. While on one of his long nightly walks through London, Dickens meets a mysterious woman who changes his focus and eventually helps provide the inspiration for Dickens’ story that is now a Christmas classic.
“Mr. Dickens and His Carol” is full of rich period detail and clever passages. Silva’s depiction of old world London is descriptive but not overdone. She even manages to include a few surreptitious references to other Dickens books in her novel. Most of the characters in the book are based on real people and actual events — although Silva explains that she “twisted” and “embellished” some of them to write this book.
In her author’s notes, Silva explains that her novel “is meant as a playful reimagining of how the second most beloved Christmas story in the world (after the original) came to be.”
Although there is despair and darkness in this book as Dickens struggles with his home and family life and, with time running out, his lack of ideas for a Christmas book, it contains far more wit and delightfulness.
“Mr. Dickens and His Carol” is a charming historical novel that will entertain readers and quite possibly inspire us to revisit “A Christmas Carol.”
As a screenwriter, Silva has sold projects to Paramount, Universal, New Line Cinema and TNT. “Mr. Dickens and His Carol” is her first novel. She describes herself as a “forever Dickens devotee.”
“Mr. Dickens and His Carol” is available in bookstores everywhere, including the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University Bookstores.
Ann Jonas is the general book buyer for the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.