Drood by Dan Simmons
Finished: Mar. 29, 2009
First Published: Feb. 9, 2009
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Reason for Reading: Received review copy from Hachette Book Group.
My name is Wilkie Collins, and my guess, since I plan to delay the publication of this document for at least a century and a quarter beyond the date of my demise, is that you do not recognise my name.
Comments: Where to start with a book of over 700 pages? If I were to have written this review immediately after finishing the book, and closing my hanging jaw, one word would have sufficed, "Wow!"
Wilkie Collins is the narrator of this book, being a memoir of his life from the time of The Woman in White's end of serialization to minutes before his death. Written in an authentic Victorian sensationalist novel voice the book is incredibly brilliant. What starts off as a simple tale of Collins' life and his friendship with Dickens takes a wild turn into murder, mayhem and the supernatural. The reader is taken along for a ride through opium dens, laudanum addiction, underground catacombs and an underground city in London, cemeteries and crypts, Egyptian cults, mesmerism as a science, and well, the list is endless. More of a summary would be a disservice to future readers. You must let the plot (or should I say multiple plots) unfold for yourself.
Filled with wonderful, eccentric characters; most of whom were actual real-life figures, one becomes fascinated with them all from the highest of character to the lowest of the low. As per a Dickens novel, the characters come and go, some shining briefly as main characters only to leave rather quickly while others are around from beginning to end. The writing is superb, simply superb. The Victorian style is followed to a "T", including having certain people named Mrs. G______ and swear words printed as d___n. Never does Simmons loose beat with the style and language of original Victorian novels. I presume this book is an homage to Wilkie Collins' style, but as I have never read him I can only surmise.
The beginning 300 pages or so are what one could call slow-paced presenting an interesting story of Collins and Dickens' friendship, their scandalous affairs concerning women, their failing health and their addictions; Collins with opium and Dickens with mesmerism. While I'm calling it slow paced that is only in contrast to the rest of the book where unbelievable things start to happen and the reader is surprised and surprised again and again as twist after turn takes the story to a place you will not see coming a mile away. The reader is taken through the writing process and life happenings of both Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone and Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood as the author entertains all sorts of possible reasons for how these books' plots came to be.
This is a book that has left me wanting more. I've read plenty of Dickens' but none of Wilkie Collin's work and that must be remedied some time soon. Along with wanting to read his work, I want to read a biography of both men having known nothing about them as people previous to reading this book. After I read the book I Googled them both and was very surprised at how much of the biographical aspects of this novel were based on reality. They are both extremely interesting (and eccentric) men.
This book is not going to be for everyone. If you've never read Victorian novels or either Dickens or Collins you'll probably have no interest in reading it anyway. But if you have, well, you are in for a treat. I read D.J. Taylor's Kept a year or two ago and thought that was brilliant but Drood sweeps it under the carpet. A fantastic ride which makes me want to read Simmons' The Terror even more now than I did before, (which was a lot) since I have always been very interested in the Franklin Expedition. Don't let the 775 pages deter you from reading this book, it took me ten days to read and I found myself flying through the pages as I could not put the book down. Lovers of Victorian literature I have one thing to say to you: "Read this book!"