The Haunted Man And The Ghost's Bargain: Charles Dickens
I had sort of hoped that the other Christmas Books might turn out to be neglected treasures, but they're not. They're none of them negligible- all have good things in them- but none is a masterpiece. The Haunted Man and The Ghost's Bargain is the worst of the bunch- and a real mess. It's the story of a romantically moody cove whose doppelganger offers him the chance to forget everything that has ever made him unhappy- but when he takes it he finds he is now a sociopath with the power of turning everyone he meets into a sociopath too- until a nice young woman reverses the evil spell by the power of her simple, winsome, feminine goodness. Convincing? No, not really. In fact, not at all. The best thing in it is the Tetterbys- one of those lower-middle class families that Dickens delighted in and portrayed so vividly. They're peripheral to the plot but he lets them run away with his pen- because they're fun. They're as good as the Cratchitts and deserve to be in a better book. Dickens' talent wasn't suited to short fiction. It needed space to sprawl and anything under about 400 pages just wasn't roomy enough. I can think of two exceptions- the ghost story The Signalman- which is so untypically spare as to seem like somebody else's work- and, of course, A Christmas Carol- which is a work of inspiration. Just how unique that inspiration was is proved by the relative failure of his four later attempts at a repeat performance.