Ohh - doesn't the cover just grab you? The script of the title, the foggy background, the mysterious figure in a top hat? It opens with Victorian thriller novelist Wilkie Collins as the narrator.
"This true story shall be about my friend (or at least about the man who was once my friend) Charles Dickens and about the Staplehurst accident that took away his peace of mind, his health, and, some might whisper, his sanity."
It is 1865 and Charles Dickens is riding a train that crashes, killing nearly all aboard. As Dickens tries to help survivors, he notices a tall, thin, pale man with a 'skull like visage', wearing a heavy black cape, also among the survivors. But those the caped man is attending to seem to die despite or as a result of his attentions. This mysterious figure, who introduces himself as Drood, comes to haunt Dickens. Dickens insists that Collins accompany him into the underbelly of London, into the sewers where it is rumoured that Drood may live. It is also rumoured that Drood is responsible for many murders. But Collins begins to believe that Drood does not exist, that Dickens may himself may be Drood.
Dan Simmons' research is detailed and extensive. He has recreated the friendship and rivalry between these two esteemed authors, whose works are known and loved over 150 years later. The social life, dialogue and historical details of Victorian London are impeccably described. I love this time period and Simmons has done an amazing job bringing it to life - opium dens, lime pits, crypts, mesmerism and the slums of London. I found myself taking side trips to the computer to follow up on many pieces of knowledge presented in the novel.
The introduction of a supernatural aspect to the plot line was a bit disappointing and unexpected to me, but shouldn't have been- Simmons has a background as a sci fi writer. I was caught up in the idea of a serial killer living in Undertown and personally would have preferred the story to proceed strictly in that direction. The ending is somewhat ambiguous and ended and left me thinking of several possiblities. But all in all, I really enjoyed it. If you're looking for a historical novel written in the style of the time, you would be hard pressed to find a better (and bigger! 800 pages!) one.
on June 20, 2011
Drood is a big, bold, ambitious piece of work and, though maybe a tad overlong and somewhat uneven, it is a unique and unforgettable read. Dan Simmons, whose previous novel, The Terror, I thoroughly enjoyed, endeavours to tell the (fictional) truth behind Charles Dickens' unfinished novel "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." Though this might be challenging enough, given that it would require that he, Simmons, research Dickens' life as well England of the mid-1800s, but he decided to write Drood in the first person with Dickens' friend and fellow writer, Wilkie Collins, as narrator. Simmons' job, and the resultant narrative, are further complicated by Collins' addiction to laudanum and documented mental instability. Collins is probably the most unreliable narrator I have read since Portnoy's Complaint.
Given these challenges with which Simmons has chosen to burden himself, one would expect that Drood would be an absolute mess, but Simmons is a true master and clearly up to the task. He creates in Collins not just an erratic and often confused narrator (and he certainly is that), but a fascinating, multi-layered character with a unique and engaging voice. Collins tells his tale with an eye towards maintaining his dignity and elevating his renown, but frequently comes off as petulant, bitter and cold. Though in lesser hands, Collins would have been an irritating and unlikeable narrator, Simmons ensures that Collins' flaws are amusing and entertaining rather than annoying and abrasive. We want to hear what Simmons' Wilkie has to say because he is flawed and, of course, because the tale he tells is an intriguing one.
But what of that tale? What is the book about, exactly? Well, it's about a very real train accident in which Dickens was involved. And it's about Dickens obsession, following the accident, with the lower, more dangerous areas of London. It's about a man named Drood who may or may not have supernatural powers . . . and may not exist at all. Also, there's a green-skinned ghost and Other Wilkie and the possible murder of a man named Edmond Dickenson and . . .
And Drood is an excellent read that defies categorization. It is in large part horror, with much mystery, and a hefty, necessary, dose of historical fiction. A highly recommended read.
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 some 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!"
on September 14, 2010
I often enjoy Dan Simmons' work, but this was a bit of a disappointment.
The story chronicles several years in the lives of the novelists Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins and their contented worlds coming into violent conflict with the corruptive influences of the ghoulish, seemingly supernatural criminal Drood. What actually happens between Dickens and Drood from their first meeting at a messy train accident, through years of furtive contact in the ground down slums of London, is a great part of the mystery that drives the novel forward.
The ultimate explanation, however, is underwhelming and unimaginative. Perhaps for a book half Drood's length, it would suffice; but at an investment of nearly 800 pages, the conclusion comes off as stale and a little too convenient. In the considerable interim, the novel is a fairly mundane treatment of the competitive friendship between the two novelists, with a focus on Simmons explaining the historical record of the two men in the terms of the supernatural thriller he's writing. As the narrator becomes increasingly petty and curmudgeonly, I found my interest waning.
Still, the book paints an intriguing and detailed picture of the time period, and grants a compelling look at the world of Dickens and some of his less familiar associates. And aspects such as some of Collins' peculiar neuroses add some interest throughout. The novel also shows Simmons' prose reaching new heights, and it would be hard to be unimpressed with the creative feat of plausibly telling such an outlandish tale about well-documented historical figures.
In the end, there's a lot to admire about the book, but somewhat less to enjoy.
on January 1, 2015
I have read much of Dan Simmons' work and have enjoyed it all ... except this. Many times during the reading I wondered if I had picked up a straight history book, which says much about Dan's historical knowledge and research. However I kept waiting for something to happen. Anything to happen. And, having finished the book, I'm still waiting. Maybe I missed the horror, maybe it was so well disguised that it looked commonplace. Maybe it was hiding in the shadows waiting for my imagination to give it wings. Or maybe it just wasn't there. Maybe the true horror is reading all the way through this long tome and realising that you've just read the memoirs of a second rate writer that was friends with Charles Dickens.
I was so disappointed that I haven't even looked at what he's written since for fear that it will be more of the same.
Dan Simmons has written a compelling enough novel in Drood. The supernatural sequences, the historical backdrop, his prose, and suspense create a very readable book. I previously read his novel The Terror, which I enjoyed and rated 4/5. What he did well in Drood include the amount of research he obviously did to make this novel as true to the times as it could be, as well as the incorporation of fantasy elements (which were the best part of The Terror as well). Where he falls short: a rather lengthy intro just to set the scene, his contrivance of using real-life figures as a mere vehicle for his plot and character interactions, and a lackluster ending. Despite being almost 800 pages long, if you ignore the less-than-stellar bookends (start and finish), one is left with a gripping, informative, authentic page-turner.
A huge book, a huge undertaking, a good bit of time ... it had better be worth it. Well, I finished this book because I started it - I'm kind of rule bound that way. However, the book, as others have said - starts off wonderfully. But it becomes mired down in drugs and drug deliriums (about as wonderful to read as dreams). The fact is that Wilke Collins does like the opium a bit too much ... but drug addicts just aren't interesting ... then or now. The last half of the book was just plain tiresome. Like a crackhead that won't shut up ...
on May 30, 2009
I purchased Dan Simmons previous book "The Terror" and I loved it!
Drood just did not do anything for me. I like big books when they are good....not so much when they are long and just ramble on and on.....This book could have been 300 pages shorter and maybe it would have been interesting.
on March 4, 2010
When I finished this book I looked around on the web for reviews. I read those of the professional reviewers and the bloggers and some from non-bloggers as well and I can tell you there's quite a range of opinions. Some thought it too long and could use a strong editorial hand. Others said that the author fell victim to the habit of giving too much detail about the particular time period (in Drood's case, Victorian England) as though every detail the author discovered during his research needed to be put in the book. Still others felt there were too many incidental side stories that had nothing to do with plot and so slowed the book down considerably.
I did not feel this way. I enjoyed the descriptions of Dickens's house parties, the relationship between Charles Dickens and various other characters, including those with his wife and son-in-law, Wilkie Collins's brother, Charley. I got to know Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and a host of other people. And then there was the London undertown! (Did this place really exist?) Had the book been any shorter, I would not have had the same sense of atmosphere that pervaded the whole work, nor would I have enjoyed the contrast between the everyday life of the upper class and the horrors faced by the 'Charles Dickens' poverty-stricken lower class. It was immensely fascinating to read about the laudanum-addicted Wilkie's movements between undertown and Charles Dickens country getaway.
This book showed me what a great story-teller Dan Simmons is. Rich in period detail with the right amount of creepiness, Drood was brilliant. Now, I'm well aware that it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I couldn't get enough of it and found it highly entertaining from the first page. It reminded me somewhat of Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, another book that many people thought should have been shorter but I was happy it wasn't.
My only complaint with this book is the weight! The hardcover must weigh a good 3 pounds so think twice before taking it on the bus!
on April 3, 2010
Dan Simmons is a masterful wordsmith. With "Drood" he has successfully re-created the gothic writing style. His prose is wonderful and flows seamlessly. The old-fashioned voice he uses makes the novel come to life, immersing the reader in 19th century London. You can picture everything in your mind which is the mark of a great read.
"Drood" is a fictional take on the friendship and competitive relationship of Charles Dickens and his literary contemporary, Wilkie Collins. Throw in elements of the supernatural in the form of the mysterious and menacing "Drood", mesmerism and laudanum use, and "Drood" makes for a very interesting mystery as well. I found this novel fascinating on many levels and would have given it 5 stars but for a scene that I personally felt was over the line and unnecessary.
All in all, a highly entertaining and informative story which was well-researched and conceived. I look forward to reading "The Terror" in the near future.