Normally I just give a brief introduction to a blog post but please bear with me if this one is slightly longer than usual.
Firstly, I would like to thank Joe Thomas at Harper Collins for sending me two copies of Miss Marley, the first having gone astray without my knowledge until lovely Rebecca Mascull contacted me to see if I had received it. If I say that I feel touched and privileged to have the opportunity to read and review the wonderful Vanessa Lafaye’s last writing, those of you who knew her will understand completely.
On the couple of occasions I met Vanessa I found her to be one of the most warm and genuine people I have ever encountered. I was delighted to read and review her novel At First Light here and it was one of my books of the year in 2017. Even better, I was thrilled to host an interview between Vanessa and her fellow Prime Writer, Jason Hewitt on At First Light publication day in a post you can read here.
To receive a book begun by Vanessa and completed by Rebecca Mascull feels very special indeed. Rebecca Mascull holds a very important place in my blogging heart too as her Song of the Sea Maid was one of the first books I reviewed here on the blog and was a book of the year in 2015 (so too was Jason Hewitt’s Devastation Road and you can see my review of that book here). The image of me that I use for my blog was taken at Rebecca’s Song of the Sea Maid launch party (you can read more about that here) and I was lucky enough to interview Rebecca about her book here.
All these elements combined, aside from the fact my sister-in-law is currently undergoing treatment for the cancer that robbed us of Vanessa, mean that Miss Marley is a special and emotional read for me.
Published by Harper Collins’ HQ imprint on 1st November 2018, Miss Marley is available for purchase through these links.
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.
My Review of Miss Marley
What did happen prior to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?
I have to admit that I was concerned I may not be able to dissociate my emotions from my reading with Miss Marley, but if I’m honest, I soon forgot the circumstances that have led to this book appearing and was so wrapped up in the storytelling I forgot who had actually written it.
Miss Marley is a glorious story. It’s modern and accessible whist at the same time feeling traditional and creating a Dickensian atmosphere that is completely authentic. The use of the senses and the cinematic scene painting transport the reader to the era so that it is as if you’re watching the action rather than reading about it. I loved the creation of setting. I had no idea which of the two authors had written which parts and it was not until I read the Afterward by Rebecca Mascull that I knew, because the writing is seamless, eloquent and flowing.
What both Vanessa Lafaye and Rebecca Mascull do so well is uncover the emotional and psychological reasons behind Jacob Marley becoming the man he is so that Miss Marley actually enhances Dickens’ A Christmas Carol because the reader has a greater understanding of why he visits Scrooge. However, it is Clara who is the star. There’s a perfect balance of the reality of a woman’s historical place in the world alongside a warm, vivid and feisty individual who becomes very real to the reader. I was with Clara in every one of her thoughts and actions. Her compassion, her love and her stoicism make her a character I won’t forget in a hurry.
The plot of Miss Marley is inspired. I loved the way the story is divided into what are almost three classical acts. Whilst there are elements that link with, and draw on, A Christmas Carol, the reader needs no knowledge of that book in order to enjoy Miss Marley. This is a Christmas story that will become part of the festive reading lexicon in its own right. It has everything a reader needs with twists and turns, triumph and disaster and love and passion – in both positive and negative forms – so that it captivates the reader and enthralls them. There are elements of social history, romance, the supernatural and psychology that give Miss Marley something for every reader.
I think Miss Marley is the perfect book for a cold winter’s afternoon. It is perfect for those who love or who are yet to discover Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I also think it is the perfect reminder of the talent and human warmth we have lost in Vanessa Lafaye. I loved it.
About Vanessa Lafaye
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.
You can still visit Vanessa’s wonderful website.
About Rebecca Mascull
Rebecca Mascull is the author of three historical novels and also writes saga fiction under the pen-name Mollie Walton.
She is currently hard at work on her next trilogy of historical fiction, with the first novel coming in spring 2019 to be published by Bonnier Zaffre as The Ironbridge Saga. These will be published under the name of Mollie Walton and the first book in the series is set in the dangerous world of the iron industry: The Daughters Of Ironbridge.
Rebecca’s novels The Visitors (2014), Song of the Sea Maid (2015) The Wild Air (2017) are all published by Hodder and Stoughton.