This book collects five novellas from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, Cricket on the Hearth, the Battle of Life, and The Haunted Man. Unfortunately, a collection of five Dickens novellas is harder to read than a single, thick volume of Dickens because one of the weaknesses of Dickens’s writing is the narrative voice setting up the story. In each case, each narrative takes something like five to ten pages to talk to you about the setting, in many cases before introducing a single human character that you can identify with and get into. Once you get over that threshold, you’re in pretty good shape.
I like Dickens stories, as one can surmise with my recent spate of them (Hard Times this year, and Great Expectations and Oliver Twist last year). In most cases, the stories are pretty optimistic and offer chances for redemption for most of the characters and a comfortable sentimentality as well as encouragment that man can thrive in a pre-electrified society that the Obama economy might bring us.
That said, of the five in this book, I enjoyed A Christmas Carol and The Cricket on the Hearth the most. The first is very familiar, of course, so I didn’t need the Cliff Notes to know where it was going. The second offered a very understandable and accessible dilemma, as a middle-aged man who characterizes himself as slow has reason to suspect his attractive younger wife is having an affair.
The Chimes and The Battle of Life both offer stories, but the characters didn’t involve me as much. In the first, a runner, that is, a courier, envisions life without him or something. In the second, a pair of sisters, a good man, and a wastrel are involved in love, loss, and a melodrama.
I didn’t really care for The Haunted Man because I was not invested in the characters and only sort of got where Dickens was going with the gimmick. A successful professor can be freed from a very painful memory, but loses the capacity for joy, too, but also acts as a carrier for the same effect and alters the lives of those whom he appreciates and for whom he feels affection.
I have this book in the Walter J. Black classics edition; of all the Classics Club I have, I’ve only so far read the Dickens books I have from them. I guess that indicates my predilection for Dickens, or at least my present preoccupation with classic fiction.
Final assessment: Worth a couple days/weeks of your time if you’re into that sort of thing. I am, it was to me.