Louis Bayard

"Mr. Timothy"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer DEC 21, 2003)

You remember him, from Dickens's famous Christmas tale, a story filled with ghosts and regrets and salvation? He's the youngest, the one who needs a cane, the one who is teeth gratingly sweet, saintly to the point of improbability. This Timothy, as he says in the first line, is "Not so tiny any more, that's a fact." He is a creature of more depth and darkness, all grown up, the only relic of his infirmity a hitch in his step and occasional pain. After his father's death he ran away from the world he was raised in, and into London's seedier side, where he lives in a brothel (room and board provided by the madam Mrs. Sharpe as long as he teaches her to read and write) and makes an occasional penny by accompanying an ex-sailor named Gully on the Thames, where they fish for bodies...animal bodies go to the knakers, human bodies to the inquest or medical tables.

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It is not the life one would have envisioned for an adopted ward of good old Uncle Ebenezer Scrooge. It's not as if Uncle N has abandoned him...we get a characterization of an almost fanatically good man, who, at the end of the day, is still lonely, as if he feels that he can never quite be good enough. Tim has an allowance he can get from his Uncle, but he hates taking it. Strangely enough the men reconnect through the fact that Timothy is haunted in this story with a ghost of his own. His recently departed father keeps appearing to him in the faces of the people around Tim, never speaking or even allowing himself to be approached. Is it grief, or a ghost in truth? Tim often speaks to his father in his head, reliving the past where we find that Tim might not have been as saccharine as the story leads us to believe, trying to come to grips with what is left of his relationship with his father. He is facing what we all face, I think...when a person close to us dies, there is so much left undone, unsaid, and we know it can't be resolved.

There is another ghost haunting him, of flesh and blood. Two times he has seen the bodies of little girls, each with a sinister brand on their arms. When he sees a live girl, a homeless urchin, he finds himself driven to find her. With the assistance of Colin the Melodious, a boy with a letch's mind and an angel's voice, he finds her. Her name is Philomena, a young Italian girl whose own father has recently died, leaving her to try and make a life for herself. She, too, bears the brand, and the man who gave it to her wants her back. To protect Philomena, Tim must find a policeman who isn't being bought to look the other way, and figure out how to defeat a man who hides behind his title and power.

Part of what makes this story a satisfying read is the setting Bayard draws for us. In his desire to play against type, he creates a London that is often filled with noise and filth and hopelessness. He does not protect us from the poverty of the people around Tim, or from the reality of life at that time. Yet, there is also beauty to be found in these places. Tim admits to being a voyeur, and through his eyes we see dance halls, the Thames, the upper class houses, Scrooge's home; through eyes that are both cynical and romantic.

Bayard writes well....the story sounds a bit like a mystery/thriller, but it's more of a novel where we explore father and child relationships. There are several of them within this book...the most obvious, between Tim and his father, but there is an adoptive father/son relationship between Uncle N and Tim, and Tim, himself, takes the role of father to Colin and Philomena. It is through Tim discovering his responsibilities and taking care of Colin and Philomena -- and how each takes steps in the fight for her -- that allows him to come to grips with the odd, mythic relationships he had with his own father and Uncle N.

This well written story takes us back to Timothy's time, in a way that gives us a whole new adventure while exploring the aftermath of Scrooge's change of heart and how it effected the people he took under his wing. Charming sometimes, fascinating, it is a truly different look at a well known story, and at parental relations. At the beginning of this review I said something about a Christmas tale, a story filled with ghosts and regrets and salvation? It applies to A Christmas Carol , but it fits Mr. Timothy , too.
  • Amazon readers rating: from 69 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Mr. Timothy at MostlyFiction.com

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About the Author:

Louis BaylorLouis Baylor is a novelist and reviewer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Nerve.com, and Salon.com.

He lives in Washington, D.C.

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