Today I am here with a review of a novel I recently reread for my neighborhood book group. One of my goals this year is to finish book group books before we meet to discuss it. And I am excited to start the year off right. Plus, I am hosting the next meeting so I better read the book for that one too 🙂
Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett is the untold story of Jacob Marley–the “dead as a doornail” partner of Ebeneezer Scrooge in the classic A Christmas Carol. A few initial thoughts:
- This novel carries on the themes of redemption, repentance, and hope from the original classic in compelling and thought-provoking ways.
- Getting Marley’s story is a lot of fun. We know the basics of his relationship with Scrooge but we don’t know his background in the original.
Jacob T. Marley gives us a similar story of redemption and repentance as A Christmas Carol. We begin the story with background on Jacob’s childhood and rise to financial success. We discover how he and Scrooge met, became partners, and became more cruel and calculating. After Marley’s death, he finds himself with a choice–return to help Scrooge or progress on his own. Jacob chooses to help Scrooge (of course) and begins a long, painful journey to understand the power of a second chance.
It was clever for the story to follow A Christmas Carol‘s plot and to get that plot from Jacob’s perspective. We get his view on his death, his ghostly visit to Scrooge on Christmas Eve, and even Scrooge’s travels with the three spirits. I loved that Jacob was there on those visits (invisible to everyone, including Scrooge) and that he got to learn and experience who Scrooge really was through those experiences. I especially liked the visit with the final spirit when Jacob could hear the spirit’s voice, unlike Scrooge. When this spirit first appears, he surprises Jacob by speaking to him.
“I speak to your both. But Ebenezer does not hear. This night, his shred of faith in our existences has permitted him to abide our presence. But now, his fear defines his vision.”
“fear of you, then,” Jacob said.
“Fear of what I represent,” answered the spirit.
“But you come in such an image,” Jacob pointed out. “It seems you intend to bring fear in your wake.”
“You see me as you see death. To another, for whom death represents the conclusion of a happy sum of goodly days on earth, this is not my appearance. My appearance is of your making, not mine.”
Jacob T. Marley, page 163
This intriguing commentary on the nature of fear and the nature of death inspired me to seek to change my view of death into the later description. Throughout the novel, we see this theme–perception of death–and how it shapes the characters in it.
What makes this novel so compelling is the writing style. Bennett writes in the same tone as Dickens himself. His voice echoes the original story which helps this novel feel more a part of the original than a spin-off. His ability to create settings and character reminiscent of Dickens’ skills really is impressive.
In addition to his style, Bennett furthers the themes of the original text, especially those of redemption, love, repentance, and forgiveness. This book left me contemplating these ideas long after I finished it. The idea that redemption comes through serving our fellow man–that our primary purpose on Earth is to help one another. Or that love’s “purpose is not to hide our errors. Love’s purpose is to forgive them. That is very different” (83). The connection between repentance and forgiveness also struck me. As Jacob realizes his wasted life as he nears his death, he is given the chance to repent. I appreciated his change of heart and that he could change too. If Scrooge was given the chance, Jacob also deserved one.
The most intriguing scene for me occurs near the end of the novel. After the three visits, Scrooge is begging for a second chance. But he does not receive it because of his own pleadings. It comes because Jacob sacrifices himself. In this way, Jacob becomes a type of Jesus Christ–willing to suffer on behalf of another. This is compelling to me because it shows the complete change that has occurred in Jacob. He has changed his attitude towards others so completely that he is now willing to accept Scrooge’s punishment as his own. For me, that shows his true repentance.
Have you read Jacob T. Marley or any other spin-offs of A Christmas Carol?
What did you think?