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Mr. Timothy: A Novel by Louis Bayard

Mr. Timothy: A Novel (edition 2004)

by Louis Bayard

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6903113,798 (3.71)100
Title:Mr. Timothy: A Novel
Authors:Louis Bayard
Info:William Morrow Paperbacks (2004), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 416 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:Historical Fiction, Mystery, London, Victorian Era, Suspense, Murder, Read in 2012, 12 in 12 Challenge

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Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard


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I admit, it was the title of this book that sucked me in. Who doesn’t nurse a warm spot in their hearts for Tiny Tim Crachit of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, the improbably selfless urchin whose death is so pitiful, it melts even the heart of "that wrenching, grasping, covetous old sinner,” Ebeneezer Scrooge?

Alas, the story that ensues barely references Dicken’s immortal tale, and is none the better for it. Instead of the noble, selfless Tiny Tim of memory, Bayard presents us with a whining wastrel of a young man – petulant, aimless and ungrateful. Thanks to the generosity of his “Uncle En,” he’s been well tended and well educated. But he’s not particularly grateful for either, and then uses the death of his father as an excuse to give up on life entirely. Seriously, he moves into a whorehouse and makes a living by dredging occasional corpses from the Thames for the reward money – can a life get any more bleak?

Things take a turn when our "Mr. Timothy" becomes obsessed by the deaths of a series of young women, each sporting the same mysterious tattoo on their shoulder, each with hands frozen into hideous claws by rictus. Bayard never bothers to provide any psychological or emotional explanation for this obsession, which has the unfortunate side-effect of making it seem a little creepy and pedophilic. In the end Tim plays the hero, rescuing the damsels from their distress, but by then Bayard has done such a thorough job of robbing us of sympathy for his main character that I was never quite sure which way the novel was headed – would Tim turn out to be Dudley Doo-right … or Humbert Humbert?

I also had a problem with Bayard’s prose, which seemed overly-lush and melodramatic. Instead of drawing me into the story, his overwritten descriptions were a persistent distraction. If you want to write like William Faulkner, then you need to pick a plot heavy enough to carry the weight. The plot of this novel, in contrast, is about as silly and predictable as a gothic romance.

Which isn’t to imply that there’s nothing redeeming in the tale. Bayard populates his yarn with a cast of eccentric characters that Dickens would surely approve of, from a crusty old sea-captain with a wrench for a hand to a boozy madam whose greatest aspiration is to learn to read. There’s even a precocious orphan. And a parrot. Bayard’s descriptions of London circa ~1850 are detailed, authentic, and evocative. Also, the way Tim keeps seeing the ghost of his father in the faces of strangers on the street was, I thought, not only a tasteful bow to the source material, but oddly authentic and moving – a reminder that though encounters with ghosts of the Past/Present/Future-type may be rare, all of us know what it is like to be haunted by the memories of the people we have loved and lost.

Perhaps others will be more forgiving than me, but I can’t help resenting Bayard for plucking beloved characters like Tiny Tim and Ebeneezer Scrooge from the pages of fiction only to manipulate them in such a callous and inconsistent fashion. Either treat the source material with the dignity it deserves, or have the courage to create your own characters rather than exploiting the fond memories of readers just to make a few extra sales. ( )
  Dorritt | Nov 2, 2015 |
Mr Timothy is Tiny Tim of Dickens's A Christmas Carol. At twenty-three, he's a bit lost--both parents are dead, he has regular contact with only one of his siblings, and he is haunted by the memory of his father. He is ambivalent about continuing to take the still happily offered money from his "Uncle N" but can't seem to find enough direction to be able to support himself fully without it. When he happens upon the body of a dead girl with a brand on her arm and then encounters another girl who seems of a kind to the dead one, he sets out to discover what is going on. What follows is part character study, part murder mystery/thriller, part continuation of A Christmas Carol.

I loved this book (and in a reversal of the usual, the other members of my book club were at best lukewarm about it). I was on board with Tim's story from the beginning and was wrapped up in the language and neo-Victorian-ness of it. Bayard does a particularly good job with setting (London felt very real in his descriptions), and there are all kinds of little references to other Dickens works, which are fun to spot. The mystery itself is entertaining (if gruesome), though I was most interested in the exploration of the character of Tim, Bayard's endeavor to imagine the Cratchitts (some of the least well realized of Dickens's characters, I think) more fully, and the illustration of the ways in which the socio-economic conditions of the time made it impossible for one rich man to lift even one family fully out of the poverty they started in. Good stuff. Recommended. ( )
1 vote lycomayflower | Aug 6, 2015 |
One can definitely see the Charles Dickens influence on Mr. Baynard. And yes Mr Timothy is most assuredly NOT Tiny Tim. The whole Cratchit family grown up wasn't that big a thrill for me (good not great) but LOVED the mystery. ( )
  feenie1010 | Feb 22, 2015 |
I expected this to be like Dickens' Christmas Carol -- it's not. But it is very good. Tiny Tim is now grown up and living in a precarious sort of way in the seamier part of London's society. It's a journey of self discovery wrapped in a Victorisn-era thriller. Nicely drawn characters and well-plotted. I coud see this as a very succesful BBC mini-series. Feels a bit like Anne Perry's Inspector Monk series, but the characters are more fully-realized. ( )
  borbet | Oct 21, 2014 |
Finished in 2013 ( )
  ACrain | Jul 15, 2014 |
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I am not so Tiny any more, that's a fact. Nearly five-eight, last I was measured, and closing in on eleven stone.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060534222, Paperback)

Tiny Tim is back! No, not the squeaky-voiced troubadour who tip-toed through tulips in the 1960s, but the original--Timothy Cratchit, the crutch-wielding tyke from Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Only now he's a "mostly able-bodied" 23 years old, resides in a London whorehouse in exchange for tutoring the madam, struggles to wean himself from financial dependence on his ancient "Uncle" Ebenezer Scrooge, and, as we learn in Louis Bayard's darkly enchanting historical thriller, Mr. Timothy, is haunted by the spirit of his late father--a man whose optimism and strength the son feels himself incapable of imitating.

When we first encounter Timothy, during the Christmas season of 1860, he's vexed by the discovery of two dead 10-year-old girls, each branded with the letter "G"--one found in an alley, the other fished from the Thames River by Cratchit and a voluble old salt who makes his money by finding (and then robbing, of course) errant corpses. Timothy's concern leads him to protect a third possessively marked waif, the frightened and suspicious Philomela--who, he soon realizes, is being sought by a knife-loving former Scotland Yard inspector and a moneyed, malevolent voluptuary. When, despite precautions, Philomela is kidnapped by her pursuers, Cratchit--assisted by a shrewd warbling urchin known as Colin the Melodious--resolves to fulfill his "great calling" in life by mounting a rescue. However, this mission will force the habitually uncourageous Timothy to not only defend himself against sexual molestation charges, storm a well-guarded mansion, and solve the puzzle of a coffin-filled basement, but also engage in a nightmarish final chase along London's docklands.

Authors employing real-life characters as detectives are often hampered by their adherence to historical fact. Bayard suffers no such limitations in imagining what fates awaited Dickens's now-famous fictional figures. Under his pen, Scrooge--whose rooms are decorated for Christmas year-round--becomes an eccentric collector of fungi and host to an interminable stream of charity solicitors, while Timothy Cratchit strikes out beyond his lonely young man status to become the head of an unconventional clan. Bayard's appreciation for the lurid exoticness of Victorian London rivals that of John MacLachlan Gray (The Fiend in Human), while his lyrical prose subtly suggests 19th-century influences. Mr. Timothy is at once a compelling Christmas crime yarn and an audacious literary endeavor. No humbug there. --J. Kingston Pierce

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:46 -0400)

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Seeking to gain independence from his benefactor, Ebenezer Scrooge, Timothy Cratchit loses himself in the underworld of 1860s London, where the discovery of two murdered girls prompts him to protect a third would-be victim.

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