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Drood: A Novel

A book by Dan Simmons

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Decidedly Dickensian, with a magician's misdirection.

  • Jan 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.

What is Drood about? The title alone would lead you to believe that it might be about the writing of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Dickens' final (and never-finished) novel. In some senses this is true. From the first few pages we hear of the mysterious Drood (just Drood in the beginning) who haunts Charles Dickens' life through the whole story. The events of Drood in some ways mirror those of Dickens' unfinished mystery, both stories laced with opium and jealousy and the dark underbelly of London. Simmons' style in Drood is clearly in the Dickensian tone, and perhaps the biggest success of the novel as a whole is how well he mimics and uses that tone to create an air of menace and dread around the character of Drood, ever-present yet seldom seen.

It's also, of course, a story about Charles Dickens, here painted as often helpful and generous, always active and vibrant, sometimes vain and arrogant. Drood follows Dickens through the last five years of his life as he writes and publishes novels in serial form, as he edits monthly publications, as he performs his work for audiences on a breakneck schedule despite declining health. Simmons' presentation of Dickens-as-character is compelling and deceptively subtle. Watch the details - you'll want to remember them when you reach the denouement.

Remember also, as you read, that this tale of the menacing Drood and the genius Dickens is told through the filter of Dickens' friend and collaborator, Wilkie Collins. Wilkie, in Drood, is a self-confessed opium addict, often prissy and self-absorbed, and a man needful of the company of women. Everything we see and hear, as the audience, comes through his filter: self-aggrandizing, jealous of Dickens, haughty. Wilkie is as much a character as Dickens himself, and Simmons captures him expertly in the novel's voice.

So what, in the end, do we have in Drood? We have a skilled 21st-century author writing in the voice of a 19th-century writer who is writing for "readers of the future" about one of English literature's most beloved writers and the dark figure that hovers over all their lives. And the layers just keep on coming, with a pitch-perfect tone and the occasional sense of the absurd. Can we trust anyone in this story? Is anything what it seems? You have to read it all to find out, and even after you close the book, questions may linger.

There's a trick in Drood and I have to admit it, Dan Simmons got me. I saw the trick coming, but he distracted me with expert skill. It's not a gimmick - it's so good that it borders on real magic. The wonder of magic isn't in the reveal - it's in the trick itelf. Dan Simmons, in Drood, proves himself a skilled practitioner at the top of his game.

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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 . 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 . 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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Rich Stoehr ()
Ranked #78
I often hide behind a pithy Douglas Adams quote or maybe some song lyrics. I guess it makes sense that much of what I share is reviews of things I like (or don't).      People … 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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