I’ve picked this because I re-read it a few Decembers ago for the first time since I was a child picking through my grandfather’s complete Dickens he bought from a Reader’s Digest salesman in the fifties (which is incidentally the collection I now own, and was rereading from). I was surprised – I don’t know why – at how brilliantly funny it is. Not just strange and colourful and mercurial and witty like Dickens so often is, but proper funny – it has gags. I realise I may be cheating again, as this is a novella by any strict definition of the word, but I tend to regard anything I can read in one sitting (and I am not what you’d call a fast reader) as a short story. Dickens is a writer I seem to be drawing closer to as I get older, and it sometimes feels like joining a club. People I would never have thought into him will give you wide smiles and winks if you bring up Bleak House in conversation, and you find The Christmas Books (from which the most famous “A Christmas Carol” is taken) are genuinely read and beloved widely. People don’t just take their favourite movie adaptation (normally the Muppets) and stick. (I realise I am sounding like the guy who is being amazed that people read Dickens). But rereading ‘A Christmas Carol’ led me to realise this is not a light seasonal comedy with turkey and ghosts and snow and Victorian biscuit tin trimmings, and it is not just about a grumpy old miser who becomes happy and generous. It is about loneliness and isolation, and… another theme developing here… how we remember our past.
Originally published as a novella in 1843 by Chapman & Hall, and subsequently included in various iterations as one of the Christmas Books series