Every Christmas it has now become customary for me to read Charles Dickens’ wonderful Christmas story, A Christmas Carol; the tale of solitary miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, who is taught the true meaning of Christmas through a series of ghostly visitors on Christmas Eve, including his old business partner Jacob Marley. However, for those of you who don’t know, there is a prequel to this great Dickensian ghost story, namely Miss Marley.
Written almost two centuries after A Christmas Carol, Miss Marley tells the story of orphans Clara and Jacob Marley. The siblings spend the first happy years of their young lives living in a grand house with their parents. However, some years later after the tragic loss of both parents, Clara and Jacob then find themselves homeless and penniless. Living on the streets of London, in the shadow of the workhouse, the youngsters scavenge for food as, “Every Friday afternoon, the butcher threw scraps from his back door to the hungry street children, but all the best morsels went to bigger boys and vicious stray dogs”, relying on their wits and one another to keep each other safe. Then an opportunity presents itself, one that will allow the intrepid youngsters to flee the dangerous city streets and escape poverty. Jacob seizes it, despite the great moral price to his soul. Later, after much hard work, with the siblings once again elevated in society, Jacob meets Ebenezer Scrooge… and so begins their infamous partnership.
The author’s note by Vanessa Lafaye states how she often wondered about Marley’s backstory; an exercise that eventually consumed her imagination. Sadly, Vanessa passed away in February 2018, unable to finish this beautiful prequel. But at the request of Vanessa’s husband, and her publisher, it was, I’m pleased to say, completed by Vanessa’s good friend and fellow author, Rebecca Mascull.
Written in third person, this is the bittersweet story of Jacob Marley as seen through the eyes of his sister, Clara. Clara is a character entirely invented by the author who believed “that the idea of inhabiting Marley himself felt too much like trespassing”. Masterfully written, this evocative fable offers insight into the social observations of Victorian life, which at times reflect some of our current issues, whilst also capturing the Dickensian spirit of Christmas, complete with ghosts, goodwill, hope and redemption.
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: Hq (1 Nov. 2018)