Book Review: Marley: A Novel

Marley: A Novel

Jon Clinch, 2019

Well, that was a waste of time and energy. This book, obviously, purports to be a backstory for A Christmas Carol. However, it fails on every level.

The writing itself is fine for a modern historical novel, but it only occasionally makes a half-hearted attempt at the kind of clever prose that characterizes Dickens' work.

The story is a ridiculous mess. It doesn't match up with any of the character relationships as presented in A Christmas Carol, and, in fact, attempts to undermine the very heart of the story.

In this novel, Marley is portrayed as a lifelong villain through and through. He is already a liar, extortionist, and forger by the time he meets Scrooge as a child. (Where he picked any of this up is not explained.) His sins only grow from there, including using shell companies to continue to profit from slavery after it is made illegal, extorting favors and money from prostitutes, and paying for the murder of his enemies. He softens a little before he dies only out of necessity, as his advancing syphilis cripples him.

Also his villainy is presented as the architect of all of Scrooge's flaws, as he manipulates the other man and lies about their business. Scrooge is described as someone too involved with math and accounting, who becomes trapped by his mission to undo Marley's worst evils once he discovers them. Of course, he cares about this only because Belle does. And before that, it's unclear how much of Marley's illegal activities Scrooge is aware of. He almost has to be involved in some of it for their partnership to make any sense, since Marley doesn't seem to have any legitimate business.

Both of these ideas are utterly wrong for A Christmas Carol. If Scrooge is making money through deeply illegal means (not just legal but unethical), this undermines his position as representative of the sins of the capitalist class and raises doubt about whether he is worthy of salvation. On the other hand, the idea that is preeminent by the end is that Scrooge is forced into his solitude and misery through attempts to make up for Marley's villainy. That undermines the original story in the other direction, making his change seem easy and obvious.

Ignore this mess and re-read the original.