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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Book Review: "Drood" by Dan Simmons

“Drood” chronicles the last five years of Charles Dickens’ life as told from the first person perspective of Dickens’ friend and some-time collaborator, fellow author Wilkie Collins. It is a story of the creative process, of the limits of friendship and sympathy, of addictive behavior, and destructive tendencies of envy. Simmons has taken on a momentous undertaking – reconciling the abundance of history from Dickens’ time, and describing it through the lens of psychological horror.

The book is long, at times it plods. I frequently wished it were a couple hundred pages shorter. In fairness to Simmons, this book shouldn’t be read strictly as a fast-paced novel of suspense. Taking advantage of the popularity of Simmons’ previous book, “The Terror”, I found the marketing of this newer work to be misleading. This book is less about Dickens than Collins. It is less about the mysterious and horrible figure of Drood, than of the inner workings of Collins’ own demented mind.

It is a curious thing that Simmons chose to tell the story the way in which he does. As narrator, the laudanum-addicted Collins is inherently an untrustworthy voice. Consequently, his narrative has inexplicable elements that can unnerve the reader. But clearly this is a deliberate effort on Simmons’ part and it is effective if, at times, frustrating.

Admittedly, I did not like “Drood” as much as I’d hoped I would; “The Terror” was one of my favorite books of 2007. I had hoped for a similar if not superior reading experience. Nevertheless, Simmons has done an extraordinary thing maintaining Collins’ unlikeable voice throughout the entirety of the book, and from the little cross-referencing I did of both Dickens’ and Collins’ biographies, Simmons’ adherence to the historical sequence of events and facts from the authors’ pasts, is surprisingly tight. It is also most clever how Simmons borrows elements from both Collins’ and Dickens’ work during those final five years, 1865 to 1870, especially “The Moonstone” and the unfinished “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”

“Drood” should be read, but not in a vacuum. Read also short histories of Collins and Dickens. Read “The Moonstone”(by Collins) and “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” (by Dickens). Make a game of it.

“Drood” is a good book if for no other reason than it inspired in me a much greater and interest and appreciation for the life and work of Charles Dickens.

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