I’m sure there must be authors who have taken Dickens and his characters for a ride, but I just can’t think of any. As far as I am aware, Mr. Timothy is the first onward telling (as opposed to retelling) of the fate of one of Dickens’ characters.
A Christmas Carol is one of those stories that will live on because it strikes a chord, and people feel a strong need to tell and retell it. It’s a universally satisfying theme: the mean guy gets taught a lesson. (Hmmmm, I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to retell ACC again. One of those greedy Wall Street CEOs would be a good object for scroogification.) ACC has been retoled countless times with Scrooge as the focus, and as far as I’m aware, storytellers have been content to leave him capering around on Christmas morning bestowing his new-found largesse on Bob Cratchett’s family.
And then Louis Bayard came along and plucked Tiny Tim from the shadows. The frail little boy who would have died but for Scrooge’s reformed character, in Bayard’s novel Tim has grown up and he’s in fairly stable health. He’s also got intelligence and curiosity and imagination, and he’s living in Dickens’ London. Bayard had a good idea, and he ran with it.
I will write a review when I’ve finished Mr. Timothy, but for right now I just wanted to point out (as I have before, but the point bears repeating) that lyrical language and good story are not mutually exclusive goals. There is a ripping big plot in this novel worthy of Dickens, and dozens of sharply drawn characters. But there is also Tim, who tells his story in his own voice, and oh, does he tell it well. An example:
Smiling is something of a foreign language for old Otterbourne, and so once he has made a token stab in that direction, his face realigns itself into the shell I have come to know tolerably well. He is the sort of man who absorbs light without ever imparting it.
These observations are never loud or distracting, which is a matter of some craftsmanship. It’s very easy to trumpet a big message, but Bayard understands the power of subtlety. And still, there are images here that will stay with me for a long time, such as Tim thinking about pain and the way it slides down the banister of his bones.
I look forward to the rest of Tim’s story with great anticipation.