When I first this book, I was a little nervous and unsure how good it would be. In recent years, there has been a wealth of books acting as sequels, prequels or retelling of classic tales (how many new versions of Pride and Prejudice do we really need?). Obviously with so much content coming out, there are both gems and stinkers. I went into this novel cautiously optimistic.
Within the first couple of pages I quickly became relieved that this book looked to be a winner. The style, tone and very language felt VERY reminiscent of Dickens' writing in his original work. There were naturally some snippets of modern vernacular but for the most part, I felt as though I was fully engaged in a piece of classic Victorian literature. The way the narrative was presented was very similar to the layout and presentation of Dickens' work and thus it felt like a very natural companion piece.
I will say that some of the segments were a bit more intense than those from A Christmas Carol. These weren't horrific or modernly grotesque by any means and would have naturally appeared other novels of the time (in fact they would have fit in naturally in some of Dickens other works) but they felt more intense than scenes from the original work. I won't call out specific details because I don't want to spoil the story…I'll just say that the 'fire rescue' scene struck me as slightly more intense than I would expect in the Christmas Carol story.
The first half of the book focused on Jacob's life up until his death. We get to see how his own greed developed, paralleled Scrooge and even mentored and shaped Scrooge into what he became. I really enjoyed the vivid backstory and well-rounded presentation of Marley's life. In the same way that Scrooge is an initially unlovable character, Marley is also very repulsive through the first half of this book.
As Marley dies, we are taken into an interesting new twist in the layout of the story. Instead of merely jumping ahead to Scrooge's experience on that fateful Christmas Eve, we first get to see into Marley's afterlife and the years between his death and his reappearance to Scrooge in the Dickens novel.
The presentation of Marley's afterlife is not overtly religious (there's a brief reference to "Him") but presents a lot of religious ideals. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens outlines Scrooge's numerous vices and presents counterpoints to him through the visions he sees. In this book, Jacob Marley engages in a conversation with a Spirit not present in the first book. Marley and this Spirit talk about the nature of humanity, morality, love, choice and other virtues. Their discussion felt natural and logical to the story while still definitely teaching a more profound message.
By the end of their conversation, Marley's remorse has extended into a hope for reconciliation not for himself (who he believes too far gone) but for Ebenezer Scrooge. Marley blames himself for leading Scrooge farther down the path that will lead to his eternal damnation. Marley pleads for the opportunity to help redeem Scrooge but first he must serve some of his own penance through wandering the earth with the chains of his own working.
After many years of wandering, Jacob Marley finally arrives at the crossroads we are all familiar with…his visit to Scrooge and the subsequent visits of the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. At this point, I expected the book to skip ahead or onto some parallel path rather than to let Marley share the journey with Scrooge. I was surprised to find that Marley was invited, even compelled, to travel with the ghosts and Scrooge (invisible to Scrooge, of course) to learn more about the nature of love, compassion, joy and goodness.
I really enjoyed seeing this aspect of the story through a different perspective. The side discussions between Marley and the various ghosts were also very fun and interesting and provided more insight. When Scrooge talked with the Ghosts, he was still caught up in his own greed, pride and humanity. When Marley spoke with the Ghosts, he did so with the insight of a soul long dead and already striving for his own redemption. As such, the commentary was more overt and direct.
Given the choice between the two books, I would probably read A Christmas Carol instead of Jacob T. Marley…but truly they are both very quick reads and great companion pieces to each other, so I think my preference would actually be to read both of them.
I am thoroughly impressed by this addition to the Christmas tradition. Bennett did a great job capturing the tone and feel of Dickens' classic work. Furthermore, he took the opportunity to expound on the wonderful lessons and emotions that we should share and teach at Christmastime. I found myself absolutely enjoying this book and eagerly recommending it to others. A fun and edifying read.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Today's Quote from Quoting Quotes: