Last year I decided I'd be traditional with my Christmas reading and go for classic ghost stories; that time it was M.R. James
, this year I went for Charles Dickens (who's left for next Christmas? Henry James maybe?) I've never been big on Dickens, and have tended to agree with the teacher at school who described him as "a man who'd take four pages to describe a handkerchief." But there's no point in trying to avoid him in his bicentennial year and short stories would seem a pretty safe bet. Despite my reservations I did for the most part enjoy the stories, and early on found a lot of moments of the humour he's famous for and which tended to elude me when I first tried to read his books. The collection I read (the Collector's Library edition) skips the most famous "A Christmas Carol" but includes instead a few stories that appeared as asides in unrelated novels like The Pickwick Papers
, plus the novella "The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain" which was the one that first reminded me why I don't get on with Dickens' prose style. The other best-known story, "The Signalman," is the creepiest and I liked the funny twist of "The Lawyer and the Ghost" and the simplicity of "Four Ghost Stories." But I did get bogged down in the florid prose quite often, and the moralising tone was hard to take after seeing Sue Perkins' documentary over New Year, about how Dickens treated his wife.