Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard

In an interview with author Louis Bayard, he said he didn’t set out to write a sequel to A Christmas Carol, and although Mr. Timothy takes place fifteen years after the events in Dickens’ classic novel and contain two of its most memorable corporeal characters, it most definitely is not a sequel.

Tiny Tim is now Mr. Timothy and his crippled leg has nearly been healed, leaving him with only a slight limp. He’s not the sweet innocent boy, spouting ‘God bless us, everyone’, endearing himself to all. His parents have passed away and his surviving siblings scattered across England.

Timothy has immersed himself in the seedy underbelly of London, teaching the madam of a brothel to read Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. As part of their arrangement, he rooms at the bordello.

Timothy seems determined to distance himself from his beneficent Uncle N, aka Ebenezer Scrooge. The crabby old miser remains changed after his encounter with the spirits. He dotes on his ‘nephew’ Tim. He spared no expense in finding the best doctors and medical care money could buy in treating Tim’s bum leg.

But Scrooge’s change of heart had a negative effect on the Crachitt family. He hired a second clerk to help Bob. Mr. Crachitt had more time on his hands and drifted away from his family.

Timothy’s siblings didn’t begrudge him the attention shown him by Scrooge but it did manage to set him apart from him. The final result is Timothy is only in contact with his brother Pete and his wife Annie.

Mr. Timothy is a trip through the sexual deviancy in Victorian England, a stark contrast of the prudish era in which the novel is set. It could probably be considered a prequel to Jack the Ripper, since Bayard’s novel shows us the dark and violent side of London. We see the buildings covered in soot from hundreds of chimneys belching smoke. We smell the Thames at low tide where the receding water reveals refuse Londoners have tossed away. We feel the bitter cold, sleet and fog that permeate thin blankets, threadbare clothing and worn shoes. No Mary Poppins or Eliza Doolittle here.

In these filthy streets, Timothy finds the bodies of two young girls. He soon encounters a third who is very much alive. He pursues her, wanting to keep her safe from the diverse people – a rich gentleman, a female ‘proprietor’ of a safe haven for orphans – eager to grab her and ‘save’ her.

Bayard’s tale gets even seedier as Tim uncovers a child prostitution ring catering to London’s elite. Why should the dukes and lords of the city degrade themselves with the common whores when they can have a younger, prettier and more importantly, pure and innocent.

Sexual perversion is a recurring theme throughout the novel and not just the mystery and Tim’s abode. He is accused of being a homosexual as his manhood is questioned more than once. And he is assaulted by his accuser.

The harshness of Mr. Timothy packs as much of a punch as A Christmas Carol, but more shocking than scary. It’s a grown up version of the Dicken’s tale. Bayard doesn’t give us a happy closing line from Tim Crachitt and he leaves a huge question unanswered.

Slow to start, Mr. Timothy draws you into the shadows and you may not want to leave.

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