The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm not a fan of Charles Dickens. The last time I had to read one of his books for school, I literally fell asleep reading it. But this book was free from Audible, so I thought I'd give it a shot.
This is the tale of the Perrybingle family, and a toymaker named Tackleton. John Peerybingle is a mail carrier, and makes a comfortable living at it. His wife, Dot, is much younger, and has recently had a child. Tackleton, meanwhile, likes to build toys that will frighten children. He has an assistant named Caleb, who has a blind daughter named Bertha. Tackleton is engaged to a young woman the same age as Mrs. Peerybingle, who doesn't love him but accepted the engagement out of a sense of duty.
One chilly evening, Mr. Peerybingle returns from picking up a delivery with a guest, an old man who's hard of hearing. His wife acts oddly around the stranger, which confuses Mr. Peerybingle until he sees the man speaking with Dot, undisguised. He's actually a younger man, about the same age as Mrs. Peerybingle. John withdraws from his wife, spending all night thinking about the future of their marriage. The cricket on the hearth, who's actually a fairy devoted to the home's well-being, shows Mr. Peerybingle scenes of his wife's devotion and kindness, and he concludes the right thing to do is to release her from their marriage and send her home to live with her mother. But all is cleared up the next day, when it's revealed that the disguised man was there to see May Fielding, Tackleton's fiancée who was promised to the young man before he was sent overseas. They've been married in secret.
Tackleton is so impressed by Mr. Peerybingle's selflessness in his reaction to his wife's seeming infidelity, he changes his ways, at least enough to send his wedding cake to his former fiancée and her new husband, and joins their celebration with no bitterness. He vows to stop building frightening toys.
There's another subplot about Bertha's view having been colored by her father's sugar-coated descriptions. He has to clear up her illusions, for which she loves her father all the more for lending her a sunnier view.
This has many of the same themes and elements of Dickens' more well-known A Christmas Carol, though I found it lighter in tone. There were actually points in the narrative where I laughed. I'd underestimated Dickens' capacity for irony and satire. The sudden transformation of a grump, the supernatural elements standing in for bellybutton inspection, and an inspirational character with a disability are all there.
It's unclear who's telling the story, though it's told from a first-person point of view by none of the named characters. I believe it's supposed to be one of the house fairies. That lends to the whimsical air of the story.
I wish I'd known Dickens wrote lighter fare. They seem a much less intimidating introduction to the man and his works.
This book was a free gift from Audible, read by the delightful Jim Dale. It wasn't a chore to get through at all. In fact, I rather enjoyed it.
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