There’s a difficult mixture of sadness and joy in joining the blog tour and sharing my review of Miss Marley, the novella published in hardback on 1st November by HQ, and also available for kindle and as an audiobook. The first nine chapters were written by the late Vanessa Lafaye: when Vanessa died earlier this year, the book was completed by her author friend Rebecca Mascull. My thanks to the publishers for providing my advance reading copies – both the e-copy I read, and the hard copy which has a special place on my bookshelves.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Vanessa, but I hope I can be allowed to call her a friend. She’d enjoyed my review of Summertime, and we stayed in close touch from that point on – exchanging emails, chatting on Messenger and sometimes talking on Skype. I’ll always particularly remember her support after the loss of my father, while dealing with so many issues of her own. I had the pleasure of introducing her (via Skype) to my book group, and she followed through with some delightful snippets of further information about the true events that inspired her first book. Vanessa was one of the loveliest people I ever knew – and one of the very finest writers.
But let’s take a closer look at the book…
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.
I do wish I could tell you that I’m a massive fan of A Christmas Carol, and proceed to tell you how this book is a perfect companion piece to the book that inspired it – but I’m not, and I sadly can’t. But I can tell you that in its just over 150 pages this story whisked me away into a vividly recreated Dickensian world, peopled with the most wonderfully drawn characters, engaging my every possible emotion. I was totally captivated from the opening scene, before the glowing window of Mr Quoit’s Toy Shop, as its centrepiece of a doll’s house triggers homeless child Clara Belle’s memories of all she has lost.
The publishers are calling this one “a seasonal tale of kindness and goodwill”, but its also a very moving story of poverty and injustice, with touches of violence and cruelty, as brother Jacob takes his opportunity to provide his sister with a more comfortable future. The world in which it’s set is magnificently created, replete with colour, smells and tastes that add richness to every description: the story itself is unashamedly sentimental, in the best Victorian tradition, but totally enthralling as we yearn for Clara to find her happy ending against impossible odds. Jacob’s transformation from a fiercely protective and loving brother into a man first hardened by his experiences, then driven by such greed and avarice that he loses sight of the importance of love and pity, is enthralling – and a progression you watch in horror, through the eyes and with the clear voice of sister Clara.
Other reviewers have mentioned the seamless transition between its two authors, and I can only agree. It’s impossible to know how Vanessa Lafaye planned to draw the book to a close, but I thought its later chapters were simply perfect in their invention and execution.
Christmassy? Yes, of course it is. And this book – with its quite beautiful cover, and its enthralling story – would be a perfect gift for any reader. I thought it was an absolute delight.
About the authors
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.
Rebecca Mascull is the author of three historical novels, all published by Hodder & Stoughton.
Her first novel, The Visitors, tells the story of Adeliza Golding, a deaf-blind child living on her father’s hop farm in Victorian Kent. Her second novel Song of the Sea Maid is set in the C18th and concerns an orphan girl who becomes a scientist and makes a remarkable discovery. Her third novel, The Wild Air, is about a shy Edwardian girl who learns to fly and becomes a celebrated aviatrix but the shadow of war is looming. She has also recently completed the final chapters of her friend and fellow novelist Vanessa Lafaye’s final work.
After previously working in education, Rebecca is now a full-time writer. She has a Masters in Writing and lives by the sea in the East of England. Rebecca also writes sagas under the pen-name Mollie Walton, with The Daughters of Ironbridge scheduled for publication in April 2019.