Friends of The Reader write about their books of the year.
I have just read Molesworth’s opinion on the great Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol:
Personally i do not care a d. whether Marley was dead or not it is just that there is something about the Xmas Carol which makes paters and grown-ups read with grate EXPRESION, and this is very embarrassing for all.
True. Reading the last chapter in a local hostel for the homeless I was reprimanded for the aforesaid ‘grate EXPRESION’ with ‘Sue, you’re getting a bit carried away there!’ In my defence, so was Scrooge.
There is something about the great opening line ‘Marley was dead, to begin with’, though, which is masterly, as well as the ensuing scene-setting, with its sense of sheer cold and dankness, that sits so well with this time of year and is utterly compelling. Not to mention the recoil the reader feels at Scrooge’s internal coldness: ‘Are there no prisons?’ with its later reverberation on the lips of the Ghost of Christmas Present. It’s an old story, the subject of so many adaptations that you think you’re in danger of being immune to its message. Not so. Dickens’ moving story of the road not taken and Scrooge’s subsequent redemption is as powerful as ever, with the novelist still capable of the same blistering rhetoric that permeates his greatest novels:
‘Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child.’
Then there is the London street scene preparing for Christmas Day, full of the energy and bustle of a contemporary city-‘just like Birkenhead Market, that!’ smiled a reader in recognition. Not to mention the wonderful narration of the Cratchit dinner-how we worry for that pudding! Even the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, a black embodiment of Scrooge’s deepest fears, perhaps even his silent conscience, can still terrify a reader used to more sophisticated horror. This final ghost, however, also prepares us for the wonderful relief of the last chapter in this novella, when Scrooge is given back his life and hears a passer-by wish him a ‘Merry Christmas’: ‘And Scrooge said often afterwards that of all the blithe sounds he had ever heard, those were the blithest in his ears’ You smile at the ‘said often afterwards’ because sometimes only a hopeful ending will do.
I have read several excellent books this year—Half of a Yellow Sun and That They May Face The Rising Sun being particularly good–but none that have moved so much as this old chestnut (ouch!). Re-reading it was a wonderful experience, made all the more memorable by the people who shared it with me.
Susan O’Connor is a reading group facilitator for Get Into Reading.