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Drood: A Novel

A book by Dan Simmons

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Dan Simmons takes on Charles Dickens in a dark, psychological phantasmagoria

  • Feb 21, 2011

Simmons is an extremely literate author whose literacy has influenced more than a few of his works. The Hyperion novels owe a lot to the Romantic Poets of the 19th century. His novella Muse of Fire puts a bright light on the best of what makes Shakespeare unforgetting. Ilium and Olympos take their inspiration from Homer. The Crook Factory takes on Hemingway.

And now with Drood, Simmons delves into Dickens.

A word of disclaimer here. As it so happens, a fact that I don't bandy about too much these days, I am related (although not a direct descendant) of Charles Dickens. I wouldn't say that I am obsessed with his work, but I made it my duty, as a relative, to read a good chunk of his oeuvre.

So, a novel about the last years of the life of Charles Dickens and how his uncompleted mystery novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood came to be was a natural for me to want to read.

The novel is narrated and entirely from the viewpoint of Wilkie Collins, a minor Victorian novelist who was a sometime collaborator, friend, and rival to Charles Dickens. At the time, he might have been a medium light, he is not well remembered today except by scholars. (His novel The Moonstone is actually probably one of the first detective novels, and is a clear inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's work).

Drood starts with Dickens relating to Collins the details of a horrible train accident, and an encounter with a mysterious, mystical figure called Drood. Collins interest in Drood, and his interest in Dickens' own interest in Drood forms the backbone of the novel. Interest turns to obsession, and finally to horror and madness.

Its a big work, nearly 800 pages, and Dickens' conceit in having Collins tell us the story leads to a number of effects. First of all, the novel reads like sprawling and turgid Victorian fiction. This book probably could have been half its size--but it would have been a very different book. Sprawling as it is, the book is not slow. We get a deep and abiding look into Collins mind and his world and tangled relationship with Dickens. Aside from the opening event, the novel does take its time in getting to the real meat of the Matter. An impatient reader might decide to give up before that happens.

Another thing to consider as a result of its size is that the novel impinges on the senses. Simmons does best and handles the passages when Collins descends into Undertown, or the opening set-piece of the train disaster, or any of the other ones when Simmons' ability to write horror and madness are in full effect. When Simmons deals with the more mundane aspects of Collins life, his effectiveness is knocked down just a tad.

Another thing to consider is that Collins is an extremely unreliable narrator. Given to opium addiction, and the aspects of mesmerism present in the book, the novel acts a bit like a puzzle in the same way that Gene Wolfe's novels often do. It is left to the reader to make judgments and decipher if what Collins is thinking, relating and observing are truly accurate. Simmons seems to give a definitive answer late in the novel--but its possible that revelation is, in itself, a ruse.

I have heard that Guillermo Del Toro (director of Pan's Labyrinth) is very interested in filming this novel. Given its garish and striking visuals, and set pieces that cry out for a director of Del Toro's abilities, I can see why the novel appeals to him.

As for me, in the end, I think the novel was a bit *too* turgid, but it certainly and admirably entertained this relation of Charles Dickens. If you are a fan of victorian fiction, or a fan of the darker novels of Dan Simmons, then Drood is definitely worth your time. This novel may not appeal if you only like Simmons' SF novels, or if the purple prose, pacing and stylistic conventions of Victorian novels are not to your liking.

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February 21, 2011
This is interesting. I almost picked this up at a Borders closeout sale over the weekend, but I opted for The Terror (also by Simmons) instead. I'll keep Drood in mind if I enjoy my recent purchase. Also, I have first cousins who always claim that they are related to Dickens through their father (to whom I'm only related through marriage). They have the last name Dickens, though I'm not sure that they have taken the same interest in him that you have.
More Drood: A Novel reviews
review by . April 10, 2009
"The Mystery of Edwin Drood" was the strange novel left half-finished (six of the twelve planned serial numbers complete with none of the usual outline and notes for the rest of the planned length) when Charles Dickens died as a relatively young man of 58. Since then many authors and literary professors have tried to finish Drood or speculate on Dickens's planned ending.    Five years before his death, a great train accident that Dickens narrowly escaped had left him physically …
review by . January 20, 2011
"Look over here!" exclaims the illusionist on stage. "Don't pay attention to what my hands are doing, look at this pretty thing instead!"      Of course, no stage magician worth his salt ever says this out loud - but they demand it of their audiences with every trick. The masters do it without ever letting the audience know what they're doing. In the same way, Dan Simmons weaves magic with his words in his novel about Charles Dickens: Drood.   …
review by . September 17, 2009
This is written as an actual documentary type story, which severely bored me. The style of writing put me to sleep and I just could not get into it. I'm sure the type of writing would appeal to some, but not me. I hate feeling like I wasted money on a book but thats how I feel in this case, sadly.
review by . March 03, 2009
WOW! This is the first word that pops into my mind when I think of this astonishing novel, Drood, by the talented author Dan Simmons. I have to say that the length of this book was highly intimidating to me - but I am sooo thrilled that I did not let that stop me. With the focus being on Charles Dickens, as narrated by his good and close friend Wilkie Collins, I am now fascinated with both of these people and want to learn all that I can about both. I would also love to read a work by Wilkie Collins, …
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Starred Review. Bestseller Simmons (The Terror) brilliantly imagines a terrifying sequence of events as the inspiration for Dickens's last, uncompleted novel,The Mystery of Edwin Drood, in this unsettling and complex thriller. In the course of narrowly escaping death in an 1865 train wreck and trying to rescue fellow passengers, Dickens encounters a ghoulish figure named Drood, who had apparently been traveling in a coffin. Along with his real-life novelist friend Wilkie Collins, who narrates the tale, Dickens pursues the elusive Drood, an effort that leads the pair to a nightmarish world beneath London's streets. Collins begins to wonder whether the object of their quest, if indeed the man exists, is merely a cover for his colleague's own murderous inclinations. Despite the book's length, readers will race through the pages, drawn by the intricate plot and the proliferation of intriguing psychological puzzles, which will remind many of the work of Charles Palliser and Michael Cox.4-city author tour. (Feb.)
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ISBN-10: 0316007021
ISBN-13: 978-0316007023
Author: Dan Simmons
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

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