Drood by Dan Simmons - BOOK REVIEW

4/26/2011 09:43:00 AM

Drood by Dan Simmons
Title:  Drood 
Author:  Dan Simmons
Publisher:   Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Books

Paperback, 976 pages
ISBN 10:     0316120618
ISBN 13:  9780316120616
The Book Depository / Amazon

Goodreads description:

On June 9, 1865, while traveling by train to London with his secret mistress, 53-year-old Charles Dickens - at the height of his powers and popularity, the most famous and successful novelist in the world and perhaps in the history of the world -  hurtled into a disaster that changed his life forever.  Did Dickens begin living a dark double life after the accident? Were his nightly forays into the worst slums of London and his deepening obsession with corpses, crypts, murder, opium dens, the use of lime pits to dissolve bodies, and a hidden subterranean London mere research . . . or something more terrifying?  Just as he did in The Terror, Dan Simmons draws impeccably from history to create a gloriously engaging and terrifying narrative. Based on the historical details of Charles Dickens's life and narrated by Wilkie Collins (Dickens's friend, frequent collaborator, and Salieri-style secret rival), DROOD explores the still-unsolved mysteries of the famous author's last years and may provide the key to Dickens's final,unfinished work -  The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  Chilling, haunting,and utterly original, DROOD is Dan Simmons at his powerful best.

My Take: 

Charles Dickens, while being one of England's pre-eminent authors, had a fascination with the underbelly of London.  A social progressive in certain areas, he advocated for the poorest of the poor, and frequently roamed the alleys and backalleys of London's worst tenements in his attempt to draw attention to their plight.

This book chronicles the final years of Dicken's life, beginning with a horrible train accident at Staplehurst that may have changed his outlook and the course of the rest of his life.

Told from the POV of Wilkie Collins, Dickens' friend, sometime collaborator, sometime rival, and brother-in-law (Dickens' daughter Katie married Wilkie's brother Charles), it is also Wilkie's story.

A lidless, pale man with teeth filed to points - that is Drood, who Dickens says he saw at Staplehurst moving among the injured and dying.  Dickens also thinks that Drood was taking the souls of those he visited, and he enlists Wilkie to help him track down this mysterious figure, going into the eerie Undertown that exists beneath London proper and coming back with a tale of Egyptian magic, mesmerism, and dark acts.

We read of Dicken's fascinations:  cannibalism, mesmerism, and his young mistress Ellen Ternan, who was traveling with him at Staplehurst that day - the reason he turned his wife of 22 years and the mother of his 10 children, Catherine, out of his home and life.

Wilkie has his own dark secrets, a dependence on large quantities of laudanum and later opium, a "housekeeper" who lives with him, and a mistress who he keeps rooms for as well.  He also has spectral, but seemingly corporeal enough to cause physical marks, visitors:  "The Other Wilkie", and a green lady with sharp teeth.

As Wilkie's murderous instincts grow and he and Dicken's friendship begins to flag, we begin to wonder if Drood is indeed a cruel murderer surrounded by equally heartless minions who think nothing of killing and disemboweling a former London inspector, or if this shadowy world of scarabs who inhabit bodies and dark Egyptian ritual is a product of murky hallucination or imagination.

A lot of research went into this novel, and Mr. Simmons was kind enough to list a lot of his reference material towards the back.  Ever curious to know more, I will be looking much of it up, as well as reading Collin's The Woman in White and The Moonstone, which both feature prominently in this novel.

If you like twisting, brooding, gothic, Dickensian types of mystery where the answers aren't always clear, mysteries that make you think and use your own imagination, you MUST have this one on your shelf.  I was totally drawn in almost from the first, and fascinated by this fictionalized account of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens (as well as Drood, in this novel the basis for Dicken's unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood).  There really were people who were so poor that they relegated themselves to living in the sewer systems of London and Paris.  We also "meet" some of the characters that were the basis for some of Dicken's own characters.  I want to know more - more about Collins, more about Dickens the man, more about the society they lived and worked in.

This is a hefty read, but so totally well worth it.


Did the famous and loveable and honourable Charles Dickens plot to murder an innocent person and dissolve away his flesh in a pit of caustic lime and secretly inter what was left of him, mere ones and a skull, in the crypt of an ancient cathedral that was an important part of Dicken's own childhood?  And did Dickens then scheme to scatter the poor victim's spectacles, rings, stickpins, shirt studs, and pocket watch in the River Thames?  And if so, or even if Dickens only dreamed he did those things, what part did a very real phantom named Drood have in the onset of such madness?

"If Drood is an illusion, my dear Wilkie, he is an illusion in the form of upper London's worst nightmare.  He is a darkness in the heart of the soul's deepest darkness.  He is the personified wrath of those who have lost the last meagre rays of hope in our modern city and our modern world."

Or perhaps he was attempting suicide by reading tour.
I admit, Dear Reader, that this final possibility not only occurred to me and made sense to me, but confused me.  At this point, I wanted to be the one to kill Charles Dickens.  But perhaps it would be tidier if I merely helped him commit suicide this way.

Writing: 5 out of 5 stars
Plot:   4.75 out of 5 stars
Characters:  5 out of 5 stars
Reading Immersion:   4.5 out 5 stars

BOOK RATING:  4.8 out of 5 stars

BLOGGERS:  Have you reviewed this book? If so, please feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments section; I will also add your link to the body of my review.

BUY IT:  At Amazon, The Book Depository, through the publisher's website,  and through other on-and-off-line booksellers.

This book is listed as one of the titles in my Chunkster Challenge 2011 list
This book is my April Just For Fun Reading Challenge title

Disclosure:  This is a review of my personal copy.

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  1. This is just the type of book I love. I'm adding to my list today.

  2. Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens in a fiction novel is tempting enough to make me want to read the book! Thanks for the review.

  3. Great review! It has now been added to my tbr list.

  4. Sounds like a great book. I've read Collins' The Woman in White and was very impressed. What wasn't impressive is that I've never heard of him before that.

  5. Thank you for this great review! It's been sitting on my shelves far too long, and I wasn't sure how interested in it I was (it had been a gift). But twisting, brooding, gothic? Now I'm thinking I would probably love it.


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