Monday, 4 November 2019

Neo-Victorian Voices: Marley, Jon Clinch (2019)


The latest novel I’m reviewing as part of my Neo-Victorian Voices series of novels set in the nineteenth century, but written in the twenty-first, was a delight. Jon Clinch’s Marley breathes life into Ebenezer Scrooge’s deceased business partner, who returns to haunt him in Charles Dickens’s beloved A Christmas Carol (1843).

How did Scrooge and Marley meet? How exactly did they make their money? And what turned Scrooge into the decidedly un-festive miser we meet at the start of Dickens’s novella? Clinch answers all these questions and more in his assured double portrait of the two characters and their combative partnership.

Marley (2019)
Products of a brutal boys’ boarding school, Marley makes the money, while Scrooge keeps the accounts and asks no questions, until the latter’s sweetheart demands their firm exit the slave trade. Scrooge is soon following the thread to unravel the lies Marley has been spinning for him throughout their acquaintance and learning that his partner goes by more than one name.

This is one of the greatest joys of the novel—how Clinch creates cameos for other Dickensian characters in Marley’s many aliases. We don’t just learn the backstories of clerk Bob Cratchit and Scrooge’s nephew, Fred. We see a whole new side to Bleak House (1852-1853)’s Inspector Bucket, who may just be acting on the wrong side of the law. Indeed, Marley/Clinch’s fictional characters and companies are so well named that it’s hard to identify which are the Dickensian and which the faux-Dickensian.

Jon Clinch
But this isn’t just a great imitation. Clinch’s tale of greed and fraud reads as relevant and modern. His cityscape is darker than Dickens’s and his ending can afford to be brutal. This is in part because readers can choose to imagine the familiar conclusion of Scrooge’s tale in A Christmas Carol if they want to escape the bleakness.

Dickens tells us, “Marley was dead: to begin with.” But Clinch creates a new beginning that brings even more pathos and drama to a Christmas classic.

Which novel would you like to see the Secret Victorianist review next as part of my Neo-Victorian Voices series? Let me know—here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

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