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Friday, January 30, 2009

“Drood” by Dan Simmons (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Order “DroodHERE

INTRODUCTION: As the celebrated author of the magnificent Hyperion Cantos saga, the critically acclaimed bestseller “The Terror”, and many other wonderful novels, Dan Simmons has proven time and again to be a writer of great versatility and appeal. In “Drood”, Mr. Simmons offers a stunning literary mystery that is audaciously tied to Charles Dickens’ final unfinished novel, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”…

SETTING:Drood” takes places in London and its surrounding environs from 1865 through 1889, with the bulk of the story occurring from June 1865 to June 1870. With its superb descriptions of a world long gone—the dark sewers of London, mysterious cults, country manors, and city-exclusive clubs—“Drood” vividly reminded me why I love Victorian fiction in the first place.

FORMAT/INFO:Drood” stands at 784 pages divided over fifty-three chapters. The narrator is none other than the famous Victorian-era writer, Wilkie Collins, younger disciple, friend and secret rival of Charles Dickens—though in this novel “dedicated to posterity”, we cannot be sure just how reliable a storyteller Wilkie really is. The story covers the last five years of Charles Dickens’ life as told by Wilkie about twenty years after the great writer's death, and ends with succinct recollections of the intervening events as pertaining to the rest of the characters.

February 9, 2009 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Drood” via
Little, Brown, and Company. A UK edition (see inset) will be published March 5, 2009 via Quercus.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS:Drood” is such a great book that at first I just wanted to write a two-line review:

Masterpiece. Read the novel as soon as you can get it.”

But then I decided to talk a little bit more about the book, even though no reasonable amount of discussion can do the novel justice since it covers so much. At its most basic however, “Drood” is a detailed recollection of the last five years of Charles Dickens' life as told in a secret journal by Wilkie Collins after the tragic train accident that turned Dickens’ life upside down, and includes the genesis of several famous novels and the beginning of Dickens’ cult-like celebrity. The book also explores obsession, artistic creation, addiction and the dark recesses of the human mind—and of London in the late 1860's.

Of the characters, Wilkie Collins is not a particularly likable narrator, nursing both a deep admiration and resentment toward his famous collaborator and friend, but he does possess quite enlightened views for the time period, especially regarding the role of women in society. Contrast this with Dickens who “exiled” his wife of twenty-two years, allowing only their eldest son to live with her at their country estate, while he continued secret assignations with his young mistress, though he maintained conventional Victorian views of women as “homemakers” in public…

About fifteen years younger and tied not only by literary collaboration and friendship, but by the marriage of Wilkie's brother to Dickens’ favorite daughter Kate, Collins is the one that Charles turns to whenever he encounters the unusual. So when the terrible train accident and the encounter with the mysterious and sinister Drood unhinges Dickens, it is Wilkie who becomes his partner in their explorations of the London underground.

The famous police inspector Hatchery, chronicled vividly by Dickens in a famous novel, is the counterpart to the shadowy Drood, and soon Wilkie finds himself torn between loyalty to Charles and a desire to upstage him once and for all by collaborating with Hatchery to expose Drood and Dickens himself…

Overall, “Drood” is not an easy read because of its size, the generally dark and foreboding tone, and how much is packed between the pages, but the novel is very engrossing, brims with energy and has quite a few humorous and lighter moments. For one, Mr. Simmons manages to insert a number of barbs to some of the foibles of our current society, and the opening page of the book is quite the tone-setter.

In conclusion, I can’t recommend “Drood” enough. It’s a literary gem that will compete for numerous awards in 2009, and enshrines Mr. Simmons as one of the best fiction authors writing today…


Vickie said...

Dan Simmons is one of my favorite authors. This is on my 'to get list' when it comes out in TPB format on 9 Feb.

Anonymous said...

Sounds excellent and great review. I just posted a review of Dan's first novel Song Of Kali, looks like he just keeps getting better and better.

Okie said...

This is a book that has me highly intrigued. I'm a little intimidated by its size but still hope to read it this year. Thanks for a great review.

Carolyn said...

This sound marvelous. Great subject! I will be looking forward to reading this!

ediFanoB said...

Book is on my to buy and to read list for 2009.
Wait for release of paperback.

Your review promise a lot.

In this case size doesn't matter as long as the story is well told.

I started to read Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson: More than 800 pages.

Kathy W said...

I have been looking forward to reading this. Great review!

Liviu said...

I saw Drood in a B&N here in White Plains tonight (Jan 30), so it is available.

RobB said...

I'm not reading the review yet, but once I finish up my review I'll come back and check it out. Bottom line, an addictive reading experience.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if anyone could comment on if it is worth it to have read "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" first? I'm a bit hesitant to read a few hundred pages of an unfinished novel if it doesn't add a whole lot to the experience of this book

Liviu said...

Actually the genesis of the Edwin Drood novel and an explanation for why it remained unfinished is part of the novel Drood.

The Dickens novel does not impinge on Simmons' Drood otherwise.

As a matter of fact a lot of Dickens work - and of Wilkie Collins - gets referenced in Drood, so familiarity with it enhances the reading experience; though you could look it the other way, after reading Drood, you want to check out Dickens and Collins if you have not read them before :)

RobB said...

>>after reading Drood, you want to check out Dickens and Collins if you have not read them before :)<<

That's how it worked for me.


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