Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Book Review: A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

"Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change for anything he chose to put his hand to." p - 11

It's Christmas Eve and Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly businessman, is visited by the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley. Marley tells him that he must change his hard-hearted and curmudgeonly ways or else he will pay for these sins after death. Scrooge is told he will be visited by three ghosts to show him the error of his ways. What follows is a redemptive journey into the past, present and future of Scrooge's world where he learns his long-held contempt for love, friendship and the Christmas season is unfounded.

The Good:

I wasn't sure what to expect, having never read Dickens before. What I found was quite pleasing. The book is peppered with a variety of vivid descriptions of settings and characters. For example, Scrooge was described as "a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire, secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster." p - 13/14 Dickens manages to create these original images that breathe life into what might have been a very bland character. Scrooge himself is well-developed. We see this in his interactions with his employees, his nephew, strangers and Marley. I loved when he checked his dressing gown for persons unknown after seeing it hanging in a suspicious attitude on the wall. I also enjoyed how he tried to explain away Marley's presence by calling him a blot of mustard or an undigested bit of beef.

I also enjoyed how he created a dense setting using weather and architecture."The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that, although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale." p - 16 The description even creates a fullness in the mouth when read aloud.

Here are some of my favourite descriptions from the book. "The brightness of the shops, where holly sprigs and berries crackled in the lamp heat of the windows, made pale faces ruddy as they passed." p-28 "Secrets that few would like to scrutinize were bred and hidden in mountains of unseemly rags, masses of corrupted fat, and sepulchers of bones." p 171.

Having finally read the book after seeing so many movie versions I saw a lot of correlation between the story and "It's a Wonderful Life". A man with the aid of a supernatural being, goes back in time and is made to realize truths about himself. I would definitely recommend this book for holiday reading. It has so much more packed into than the various movie versions floating out there.

The Bad:

I didn't appreciate the random and many authorial intrusions throughout the book. I could have done without the narrator directly speaking to me and interrupting the flow of the plot.

Also, while there were some beautifully evocative descriptions in this book, they were few and far between. Dickens is typical when it comes to the Victorian style of writing in terms of various long and convoluted sentences. I saw so much that could have been edited for efficiency and conciseness.

As well, I had a lot of questions that weren't answered in the book. For example, why did Scrooge move into Marley's old house? Did he inherit it after Marley's death? In any case it seemed more than creepy to move into your dead partner's house. Also, the Ghost of Christmas Present talks about his "brothers". I wanted to know more about this ghost world that Dickens had populated and yet he only provided the reader with snippets here and there.

Some of the diction and sayings were archaic enough that their full impact was lost on me. For example, there was a simile "like a bad lobster in a cellar". I was intrigued but stumped as to its meaning. Some of the humour as well is outdated and would probably have been far more amusing to someone reading this in the 1840s when it was first published.

The Ugly:

Somebody find Eli Wallach.

Rating: 3/5

2 comments:

Seresecros said...

I definitely agree with you on this. I think Dickens is fantastic at establishing a scene and tone, but he doesn't sustain this throughout. Quite often he gets caught up on boring ideas, when really what the reader wants is some more of his wodnerful lyricism.

Did that make sense? I hope it did. I quite like Dickens, despite him being one of the 'classic' writers.

theduckthief said...

Yes, that's how I felt through the book. He'd start off well but peter off into unimportant details or ideas.