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Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard
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Mr. Timothy (original 2003; edition 2003)

by Louis Bayard

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7643418,499 (3.71)105
Member:TheCriticalTimes
Title:Mr. Timothy
Authors:Louis Bayard
Info:(2003), Hardcover
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:Historical Fiction, Victorian

Work details

Mr. Timothy: A Novel by Louis Bayard (2003)

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Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
Mr Timothy is a thriller concerning the rescue of victims of a child prostitution ring in Victorian/Dickensian London. The central conceit is that our hero, Mr Timothy, is a grown up Tiny Tim from Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, now reliant on hand-outs from the avuncular, now philanthropic and slightly Christmas-obsessed Ebeneezer Scrooge.

The worlds we see in the book - lower middle class, extreme poverty, working class, a glimpse of the aristocracy - are all well drawn and believable. The sex trade is all too realistic. The characters are nicely fleshed out, strange enough to be interesting, but not direct pastiches of Dickens.

Bayard writes well, with plenty of drive and narrative pace, but also with intelligence and a literary sensibility that holds the attention without straying into overly abstract post-modernism.

A good read and a thought-provoking, intelligent one as wel. ( )
  pierthinker | Jan 15, 2019 |
Mr. Timothy - Bayard
4 stars

It is mid-December in 1860. I knew before the end of the first chapter that it wouldn’t be a nice Christmas story. This isn’t Dickens. Mr.Timothy Cratchit is narrating his own story. He is, in a way, an unreliable narrator. It’s his story, but he isn’t really sure who he is in the world. He doesn’t trust his own memories or his current perceptions.

Timothy is a young man. He is having a bit of an identity crisis. He is mourning his losses; brothers and sisters, dead or gone; his mother and most recently, his father, deceased. Timothy is tired of being the Victorian equivalent of ‘poster child’. He is trying, with limited success, to separate himself financially from his Uncle ‘N’ (Ebenezer Scrooge). He’s an emotional mess. He lives in a brothel; teaching the madam how to read in exchange for room and board. He earns a bit of money dredging the Thames for bodies. He sees phantoms of his father all over London. Life is not very good for him.

And then he stumbles over the mutilated bodies of two very young girls.

Dickens wrote about the underbelly of London. He wrote about thieves and murderers and the occasional prostitute. But, Dickens had to stay within the boundaries of Victorian sensibility. Louis Bayard has no such restrictions. Timothy Cratchit tells it as he sees it, and he sees all of the raunchy, ugly, violent activities that surround him. His narration is ironic, sarcastic, and filled with self loathing. So, definitely not a Hallmark Christmas story.

This is not a sequel to A Christmas Carol despite its use of characters from the original story. It is not pastiche or parody. The story stands on its own, although the events of the previous book do provide background history for the adult Timothy.

It is an action filled murder mystery. The writing style is different from the usual murder mystery. Bayard doesn’t use quotation marks. Timothy sometimes switches from first to third person narrative; a bit of metafiction as the character refers to himself as a character. It was easy to get lost in the London fog as the story progressed. This has been my experience with previous Bayard books. The story loses some tension with superfluous details in the middle. In this book the descriptive details are wonderful and full of Dickensian references, but the circuitous chases through London become tedious. Timothy is a bit slow to identify all of the bad guys, but I had plenty of time to work it out.

Although the writing style was very different, I think this book is worthy of Dickens. Bayard creates some wonderful characters. Colin the Melodious is a precocious Artful Dodger, but Philomela is more assertive and intelligent than most of Dickens’ heroines. I enjoyed Captain Gully with his misplaced pronouns and the box-end wrench that replaced his left hand. But the best, the very best, was the brothel madam, Mrs. Sharpe.

I was not in the mood for Timothy’s unfiltered observations of whorehouse activities when I started this book. I would have put it down long before the mystery started had it not been for Mrs. Sharpe’s reading lessons. They are priceless. I have a reading teacher’s sympathy for Timothy as he and his pupil struggle with the early lessons, “We spent a full week on gh words alone because she couldn’t see why the same combination of letters should produce such radically different sounds, and I myself could not explain the wisdom behind these divergences.” As Mrs. Sharpe becomes a proficient reader her literary comments light up the page. They progress to literary criticism and Robinson Crusoe; “ At times, she has even surprised me by stepping outside the written word altogether and offering her own supra-textual commentary. —Oh, he should never have let the one savage go, Tim. Mark my words, he’ll regret it. Or else: —Isn’t it amazing when you think on it? Hasn’t poked a woman in twenty years! I shouldn’t wonder if he buggers Friday before long. “

No, definitely not a Hallmark Christmas story. But, priceless, truly priceless. ( )
  msjudy | Jan 1, 2019 |
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 |
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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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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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