by Sara Voigt (@meaningfulmadness)
Samantha Silva's Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a delightful imagining of how Charles Dickens's iconic Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol, came to be. The story follows Dickens in the weeks before Christmas as he struggles to write a Christmas-themed story to satisfy his publishers, who are dismayed at the dwindling sales of his latest book. As the pressure mounts to meet the Christmas deadline, a cast of recognizable, yet not quite totally familiar characters provide inspiration and at times trepidation for Dickens.
I thoroughly enjoyed this charming novel. A Christmas Carol is one of my favorite classic fictional Christmas stories. (The Gift of the Magi is my other one!) Samantha Silva's portrayal of the Christmastime streets of London during the 1800s is magical. She writes, "The air smelled like it had hailed nutmeg and snowed cinnamon." Be still my heart. Her skill in transporting me from 2020 in the rural U.S. to the London streets of Dickens's time is considerable. The smells, the sights—all of the sensory details assist in creating this lovely setting.
While the well-crafted setting is my favorite part of the novel, I also loved Silva's Dickens. Presented as a lovable but flawed family man, somewhat jaded by success and struggling to accept his floundering popularity, Dickens is at times endearing, and at times completely and utterly frustrating. This character choice provides for compelling interactions with supporting characters in the novel.
The plot is interesting and familiar, yet not (you will understand this if you read the book); however, the strength of the book lies in the author's ability to capture a time period and pay tribute to one of the most popular Christmas stories ever written. I so love all the wink, wink, nudge, nudge moments to A Christmas Carol that transpire as the novel progresses.
Here's another passage from the book that I would be remiss not to mention:
"The distance between him (Dickens) and Catherine (Dickens's wife), as in all marriages, was sometimes an inch, but other times the great expanse between hill and valley, ocean and desert. It was Dante's dark forest, shrouded in shadow, the right path so often obscured. It was being together but feeling alone."
Silva is so adept with creating a moment that although the setting is in a time much earlier, the words and feelings are timeless. And this is why I enjoyed this novel. This is a lovely period piece set at my favorite time of the year. What is not to love? However, a reader who must have a fast-paced plot to enjoy a book will probably want to skip this one.
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