1 November 2018
It's always been my tradition to re-read Charles Dickens', A Christmas Carol at this time of year, spending time in the company of Ebeneezer Scrooge, and the ghost of his erstwhile companion, Jacob Marley, seems to be reminiscent of so many of my Christmases past.
However, this year, I decided to read something a little different but still keeping the theme of Dickensian London, so I turned to Miss Marley, which was written by Vanessa Lafaye. Very sadly, Vanessa died earlier this year before she could complete the story of Jacob Marley's sister and so, rising to the challenge, historical novelist, Rebecca Mascull, a close writing friend of Vanessa, completed the story.
From the opening chapter of Miss Marley and the introduction to the young Jacob Marley and his sister Clara Belle, I was immediately taken into the world of the Victorian underclass. Forced to survive by using their considerable wits both of these intrepid youngsters do what they must in order to eke out some sort of living, but circumstances can change in a heartbeat and Jacob, always brave enough to take a chance, steers both of their lives in a very different direction.
Miss Marley is as beautifully written as all of Vanessa Lafaye's previous novels. Without doubt, she is a master story and describes time and place so perfectly that you feel as if you wander the London streets hand in hand with the young Jacob and Clara Belle, seeing the shapes and shadows that framed their lives. The hawkers and the barrow boys, the street sellers and the costermongers, the shouts, the snippets of gossip, the promise of a meal and a pint of porter in the Ox and Plough, all jostle for space against the cacophony of noise that made up the great city of London.
I have to admit that reading the story was bittersweet in so many ways, not just because A Christmas Carol is one of my favourite Christmas stories and I so wanted this to sit comfortably alongside such a classic, and it does admirably, but also because I know just how important finishing Miss Marley was to Rebecca Mascull who completes the story with such love and fine attention to detail that the transition is seamless.
Miss Marley isn't a long story, coming in at around 170 or so pages, so it's perfectly possible to read the story comfortably over the space of an afternoon or evening. It's Vanessa Lafaye writing at her best and is a lasting tribute to her absolute joy of story-telling.
Vanessa LaFaye was an American born author living in England. A thirst for adventure brought her to Europe in 1987, first to France and then England. She spent many years in academic publishing, including the Oxford University Press. She wrote two acclaimed historical novels set in Florida, Summertime published in 2015 followed by First Light. LaFaye was the founder of the Marlborough Community Choir in Wiltshire, England. She detailed the impact of living with cancer in her popular blog Living While Dying.
Twitter @Vanessa Lafaye #MissMarley