A risky pastiche presents itself as the memoir of 59-year-old Charles Dickens, confessing the “most important chapter of my life”—his secret, undying love for the wife of a vicious scoundrel.
It takes a bold writer to mimic the voices of geniuses, but Hauser (Waiting for Carver Boyd, 2011, etc.), author of some 47 works of fiction and nonfiction, has gone down this road before and breezily “comingles” his words with those of a much-loved true-life author once again. Cantering through the facts of Dickens’ life (born 1812; father imprisoned for debt; miserable episode in a blacking factory; prodigious invention; eventual fame and fortune; marital breakdown), Hauser pauses to insert a lurid episode of prostitution, mutilation, fraud and murder revolving around the villainous character of Geoffrey Wingate. An established, unmarried journalist on the threshold of success, the young Dickens is invited to write a sketch of Wingate. Research leads him to the impoverished victims of Wingate’s rapacious and brutal actions, but it’s Wingate himself who introduces Amanda, his beautiful, unpredictable wife, whose harsh upbringing chimes with Dickens’ strong views on social reform. Bringing in a police inspector to help investigate Wingate’s crimes, Dickens—still a virgin—finds himself falling under Amanda’s spell, all the more so when she appears at his home one night with a bottle of wine and surprising undergarments. Hauser’s attempt at a Dickensian voice falls short. Instead, he offers a simple, sketchy tale starring Dickens as a sad workaholic whose late re-encounter with Amanda only serves to send him to his grave with a shattered heart.
Inauthentic and skimpy. Dickens fans should stick to the unparalleled originals.