Miss Marley is a very poignant book as its author, Vanessa Lafaye, very sadly died in February this year. The book has been lovingly completed by her friend and fellow author, Rebecca Mascull. I think she has done a wonderful job writing the ending as I would never have sensed it was by a different author. In an afterword, Rebecca Mascull very movingly says she almost felt like she was channelling Vanessa Lafaye as she finished the book.
I was fascinated to read about why Vanessa Lafaye wanted to write this book in her author’s note at the beginning. She was very intrigued by the character of Jacob Marley who appears only three times in A Christmas Carol and wondered what he had done to deserve his fate of dragging chains about the spirit world for all eternity. Rather than try to write from Dickens’ character’s point of view, she created a new character, his sister Clara Belle Marley, and used the siblings to explain Marley’s story.
From the outset, I think that Vanessa Lafaye did a marvellous job of creating a sense of time and place. I was transported to Victorian London where the poverty and desperation of the Marley orphans was clear. It was heartbreaking to read of their fight to keep warm while living on the streets, the constant danger they were in, their struggle to find enough food to keep them alive and the injustice done to them by their uncle. When they did manage to build a better life for themselves, on the back of a bad experience, while Clara’s character was then shaped by compassion for those once in their position, Jacob, known as Jake, became very hard-hearted and determined that he would show no mercy to anyone, even knowing what he had been through. It was admirable that he wanted to keep himself and his sister safe, so they would never face hardship again, but it was sad that you could see him becoming the character we catch a glimpse of in A Christmas Carol.
There was a kind of symmetry between Jake’s story and the well-known tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. Like Scrooge, he was given the opportunity to change but unlike Scrooge, he chose not to take it. In Miss Marley, we see a Scrooge who was not always the miserable character in Dickens’ tale and it is perhaps because of this, that he was able to see the error of his ways.
Miss Marley is an excellent prequel to A Christmas Carol and fits so flawlessly into the original story, that it seems to shed new light on Dickens’ work. It is a perfect short read as we move into the Christmas season and Jacob Marley’s experiences are a reminder that everyone touches other people’s lives in ways we may never know. In completing this book, Rebecca Mascull has created a fitting and lasting tribute to Vanessa Lafaye.
My thanks to Joe Thomas at Harper Collins for my place on the blogtour and my copy of this lovely book. It is available now in hardback from your usual book retailer or you can order a Kindle copy online here: Miss Marley
From the back of the book
Before A Christmas Carol there was… Miss Marley
A seasonal tale of kindness and goodwill
Orphans Clara and Jacob Marley live by their wits, scavenging for scraps in the poorest alleyways of London, in the shadow of the workhouse. Every night, Jake promises his little sister ‘tomorrow will be better’ and when the chance to escape poverty comes their way, he seizes it despite the terrible price.
And so Jacob Marley is set on a path that leads to his infamous partnership with Ebenezer Scrooge. As Jacob builds a fortress of wealth to keep the world out, only Clara can warn him of the hideous fate that awaits him if he refuses to let love and kindness into his heart…
In Miss Marley, Vanessa Lafaye weaves a spellbinding Dickensian tale of ghosts, goodwill and hope – a perfect prequel to A Christmas Carol.
About the author
Vanessa Lafaye was born in Florida and studied in North Carolina. She moved to the UK in 1999 (having been deported once). She is the author of two previous novels, her first book Summertime, was chosen for Richard and Judy in 2015 and was shortlisted for the Historical Writers Award. Vanessa passed away in February 2018.
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