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Thursday, August 27, 2009

What I'm Reading: Drood

As I mentioned here, I have been on a Dickens kick, and I think I am all Dickensed out after listening to Dan Simmons' Drood, a 24-disc, opus about Dickens' last few years, narrated by his friend and collaborator, Wilkie Collins. I don't want to give the wrong impression. I liked this book, but even too much of a good thing can become bad.

This book is hard to classify. It is historical fiction, with supernatural, and thriller elements. Like he did in The Terror, Simmons has drawn heavily upon historical documents, including many of Dickens' letters to friends and family here. However, all letters to Dickens' it is noted, were burned by the author himself. The novel blends facts- including those surrounding the mystery of Dickens' last unfinished work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the life of Dickens and his family, the life of Wilkie Collins', the work the two authors did together and separately, and life in their world- with invented and supernatural elements such as the ghosts who haunt Wilkie Collins and an underground world of evil minions controlled through mesmerism.

This is a long book (784 pages), and its pace varies. Most of the pacing depends on our narrator's mood. Simmons portrays Collins' as a self-centered but troubled man. We read at Collins' whim; we are subject to his moods and digressions--all of which adds an interesting dimension to the book. While there are exciting chapters of adventures into tunnels under London, there are also long recreated conversations between Collins and Dickens which contemplate the state of literature at the time. There are long passages of what is basically literary criticism balanced by faster paced scenes in which Wilkie is literally battling his ghosts. There is even a bit of psychoanalysis of Dickens by Wilkie Collins in this novel.

That leads me to another big appeal, Wilkie is our narrator, but also a fascinating character himself; in fact I found him more interesting than Dickens.

Overall I enjoyed this book, it had a little bit of everything I like in a book: it was historically detailed, it had an unreliable narrator, it was dark and macabre, and it had a literary background. However, at almost 800 pages, this book is not for every reader and it does get a bit bloated and long winded at times. For the reader who finds Drood intriguing but too long, I would try to equally as well researched and much tighter The Last Dickens (which is detailed below).

Readalikes: As I mentioned, this book is very similar to Matthew Pearl's The Last Dickens which I read here and you can click through to see many readalikes. These will all appeal to readers of Drood.

I will (and have) suggested Pearl's title to more readers than Simmons', although not because one is "better" than the other. Rather, Pearl's title will just appeal to a wider range of readers.

Drood did make me want to more about the peculiar Wilkie Collins, so here is a link to his Amazon page.

Getting away from the Dickens/Collins angel, readers who enjoy literary, historical and macabre tomes like The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova or the shorter The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (which I also read here) will also find Drood to their liking.

Finally a more modern book with a very similar feel, pacing, and length to Drood is Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl (which I also read here).

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