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!