Sunday 24 December 2017

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens, 1835-1854
(December 2017)
Every year I mean to read this book at Christmas, and every year I forget until about December 29th, at which point the moment has rather passed. I finally got the pitifully small affair that represents my act together this year, and it was in no way worth the wait.
He’s not subtle as a writer, is he? Soporific at points, certainly (though this is as much about the influence of the passage of time on prose style as Dickens’s writing itself), but never afraid to assert and reassert and rereassert the Moral of the Story until the reader has been bludgeoned into shame-faced coma of ethical contrition. The most notably thing about reading A Christmas Carol—having obviously been exposed to adaptations of it in various other media for as long as I can remember—was how Scrooge has basically repented of all his sins by the midway point of the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Past, yet we’ve still got two-and-a-half more apparitions’ worth of spectral hectoring to go.

In addition to the title novella, this collection also includes the slightly longer The Haunted Man and The Ghost's Bargain, and about half a dozen other shorter Christmas-related pieces. The Haunted Man was frankly confusing. It probably didn’t help that I read it at bedtime during a week I was sleeping very badly. (You know when you get a cold? And your blocked nose means you have to sleep with your mouth open? And that makes your throat dry out? And it gets an infection? And it feels like you’re constantly gagging when you lie down? And you can’t sleep because every time you close your eyes your body insists it’s right on the verge of throwing up? And even when you do get to sleep you wake up at two thirty in the morning anyway? And lie there staring at the ceiling for an hour before thinking, ‘Fuck it. I may as well get up and do something more interesting with this time’? And then work a full day and get home and fall asleep on the sofa at seven in the evening, only to be woken by the kids and repeat the whole sorry cycle once again? Well, that.) Even so, it was difficult to keep the array of characters and their interrelationships in line, and the plot boils down to unpleasant things happening to an unpleasant man before a beautiful yet unassuming lady makes everything better. A timeless tale (he says with much less irony than he would otherwise like).

Of all the pieces here, The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton was probably my favourite. An excerpt from the Pickwick Papers (Note to self: Try to read the Pick Wick Papers before you die. Maybe.) which is very obviously the forerunner of A Christmas Carol. A miserable sexton (a guy who digs graves, not the thing sailors use to measure the position of the stars) gets drunk in a graveyard on Christmas Eve and is visited by some terrifying goblins who properly educate him on the spirit of the season. Long enough to make its point, short enough not to outstay its welcome.

And in that spirit, I'll leave off here by wishing happy holidays to you all and something something Tiny Tim bah humbug.

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