Book Review: Marley by Jon Clinch

Marley is an imaginative tale about Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley. If you’ll recall from A Christmas Carol, the ghost of Jacob Marley appears to Scrooge in his house as a prelude to visits from the three main ghosts. But other than that we don’t learn much about him. Marley imagines what his back story might be.

I read Marley as part of the 12 Months of Reading Goodness challenge. December’s challenge was to read a book set during the holidays. Although Christmas doesn’t figure prominently in the novel, come on – it has Scrooge in it!

From the beginning of his relationship with Scrooge, Jacob Marley was by far the more nefarious of the two. The two met at boarding school, where Marley extorted money out of weak, gullible Scrooge. As he got older, his crimes got worse and he used the business partnership to mask involvement in illegal and immoral schemes, including involvement in the slave trade. Throughout most of the book, Marley is portrayed as the imaginative but debauched crook, while Scrooge is lost in his ledgers, peripherally aware of only some of his partner’s schemes.

Together, they accumulate much wealth, but continue to live like the miserly paupers we see in A Christmas Carol. Accumulating and protecting their money seems to be their only goal, without using it for anything fun or joyful. Marley hides the money in his house while Scrooge sneaks in and slowly takes back what Marley has been embezzling from him. This theme of stingy, all-consuming avarice is consistent with what we see in A Christmas Carol.

Another consistent theme is salvation, although in this case it’s Marley’s (although it’s not complete – we see him in chains in A Christmas Carol). Age and illness eventually humble him and he reconnects with people he has wronged, even trying to atone with a death bed gesture. Meanwhile, Scrooge takes his place as the King of Treachery. If you graphed their heartlessness, Marley’s line declines while Scrooge’s ascends. At some point, the lines intersect and the man who used to just be obsessed with the numbers on his ledgers becomes actively odious. This, of course, sets up Scrooge’s redemption story in A Christmas Carol.

I really liked this book and I hope I didn’t include too many spoilers in my overview, because I’m going to encourage everyone to read it. Jon Clinch is a gifted storyteller. His writing style is spare but eloquent – no awkward or forced passages, everything just worked. He skillfully covered a lot of years and themes, going into detail when needed or just using subtle innuendo if appropriate. I especially liked how he teed up Scrooge’s story in A Christmas Carol. It showed respect for the original work while still being creative with the back story.

Marley is an example of one of the gems that can be discovered while doing a reading challenge. Hope you’ll consider taking on the 2020 Thoughtful Reading Challenge and seeing what hidden treasures you can find!

Did you read a holiday-themed book this month? Tell us about it.

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! God bless us every one!

8 thoughts on “Book Review: Marley by Jon Clinch

  1. I had never heard of this book, but it sounds very clever. I like books that take a minor character from another book and then fill in their story. It makes the fictional world feel more 3 dimensional. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have found that I seem to be getting more jaded as I get older. A lot of times I really struggle for one reason or another with books that have made my reading list. With that in mind, I hesitate to say that Marley was the best book I read in 2019. That’s how much I enjoyed this read. I think that part of the reason I liked this book so much was because I had read several reviews on it, all of which cast this novel as a doomy, gloomy book that didn’t leave the reader feeling good or upbeat. Although this was true, Clinch’s writing was so solid and powerful that I liked the book in spite of its spirit. Why?

    First off was his writing style. As Michelle said, he writes sparingly and only says what needs to be said. This book wasn’t over exaggerated or longer than it needed to be. I can’t say that about too many other authors. I also was impressed that the characters didn’t require a lot of development or description since we know about them from A Christmas Carol.

    Clinch also made me feel like I was in London around the time period described. In little prose, he set the scene and portrayed London much along the lines as that of Dickens. A nice tie-in to Dickens.

    Perhaps the most persuasive portion of this novel for me was that I actually felt bad for Scrooge through most of it. Scrooge is manipulated and taken advantage of by Marley and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. Yet in the end, Clinch does a masterful job of bringing the character around to how we find him in Dickens’ classic. While I was reading this book and enjoying it, in the back of my mind I couldn’t figure out how it could end and link in to A Christmas Carol. In my opinion, Clinch did it masterfully.

    I enjoyed this book so much that I have checked out two of Clinch’s previous novels in the hopes that they are as solid as Marley.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I read this after being told by my husband (see above) that it was one of the best books he had read in quite awhile. I was a bit skeptical, but I acquiesced and gave it a go. It did not disappoint. I could see how one might find it dark and gloomy–that is the picture Clinch sets when he describes the character of Marley (he always dressed in black) as well as his home, the office of Scrooge and Marley and Marley’s haunts. However, I agree with Michelle’s comment that salvation is a consistent, although incomplete, theme which of course is a perfect tie into A Christmas Carol. I was worried while reading the book that the progression of Scrooge’s character would be too forced so as to end where A Christmas Carol begins. However, Clinch expertly weaves a tale which flows very well into the classic work by Dickens. His writing style brought each scene, including the sights and sounds of London, to life. I also enjoyed the appearance of Bob Cratchit both as a child and then later as Scrooge’s clerk. An excellent read!

    Liked by 1 person

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