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Drood: A Novel

A book by Dan Simmons

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Opium dreams?

  • Apr 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 weakened and emotionally fragile. Simmons uses this as the historical starting point for his own Drood, which doesn't attempt to complete the story (although it does suggest an outline of how Dickens might have finished it) but rather tells how Dickens came to start it.

The story, both Dickens's and Sinmons's, revolve around Wilkie Collins, Dicken's friend and fellow author in real life, who is best known for his ground-breaking mystery "The Moonstone", widely considered the first detective fiction and which spawned the monstrous mystery genre that now rivals or exceeds the shelf footage of general fiction in every book store and library. While close friends, Collins and Dickens drifted apart in those last give years of Dickens's life. Collins was a Victorian rebel, living with two different women at the same time and marrying neither, and a heavy user of laudanum, an opium and alcohol brew used medicinally and abused recreationally by gentlemen who could find, afford, and needed such release from physical and mental pain.

Simmons's Drood is written in the form of a first-person narrative sealed for 125 years after the death of its author Collins, when it will be released to the public, wherein Collins tells the story of his friendship with Dickens and why it deteriorated after the nearly tragic train wreck. We find (as told through Collins' opium-soaked pen) that Drood was a real person whom Dickens encountered at the train wreck, and who helped Dickens extract survivors and pull them to safey--or to death. As Dickens tells the story to Collins, he is not sure.

The rest of the story is Collins's account of how he and Dickens tried to find Drood and then to kill him. There are trips to the deepest slums of London, the vilest opium dens, and below the streets to the slums and "Undertown" beneath London's dark, dirty, fog-shrouded streets. There are mysterious private detectives, foreboding visions and dream, and romantic entangles between Collins and his two paramours and Dickens and his own mistress. There are moments of collaboration and confrontation between two strong personalities both secure in their professional abilities yet competitive in their seeking for public success and adulation (the factual and fictional Collins were both bound to be losers in this regard to the most beloved and most read writer in English history not named William Shakespeare).

Through it all, the reader must remember that the tale is told by a man often controlled by a powerful addiction assuaged only by higher and higher doses of his laudanum, opium, and finally morphine. Simmons keeps the story boiling (a bit too long, perhaps, although the florid writing style is appropriate to the time and the author Collins, noted for his florid Gothic turn) and the reader guessing at what is real, what has happened and what may in the end be merely opium dreams. Simmons's account is solidly based in the biographies of the two writers and the history of their relationship, and suggests interesting and sometimes plausible reasons for both their cooling relationship and Dickes's rapid aging and failing health after the train wreck.

But more than anything, Simmons is an entertainer, not a historian, so keep the history in its place and enjoy the tale as Simmons rolls it out.

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More Drood: A Novel reviews
review by . February 21, 2011
posted in SF Signal
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 …
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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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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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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