Charles Dickens Took One Last Secret To His Grave...
Simmon's has cleverly used a genre of fr-iction in his latest novel, which is half fact and half fiction. The novel is set in London during the Victorian era which we so widely associate with Charles Dickens and the potrayal of society that Dickens created. However, Simmons uncovers a side to Dickens that is not so widely known and creates his own fictional spin on the events towards the end of Dickens' life.
The novel is narrated by Wilkie Collins, another famous author of the 1800s, a close friend and contemporary of Charles Dickens. Dickens often edited and represented Collin's work in his magazine, 'All the Year Round' and the dynamics between the two friends is both comical and volatile at times. Collins' as someone who knows Dickens better than most, gives us an insight into the life and character of Dickens that the modern day public may not be aware of. Of course some of this is fictional creation but with the book being around 700 pages long, Simmons has certainly done his homework. The book is extensively researched and in- depth. Some may say too in-depth but personally I could not put this book down.
The title Drood derives from Dicken's last ever novel, 'The Mystery Of Edwin Drood', which is a murder mystery that is never solved; primarily because Dickens died before he could finish the novel. 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood', has themes of murder, opium, mystism, detecives and a very dark tone which is all encaspulated and built on in Dan Simmons' novel.
The novel begins with the Staplehurst Railway incident in which many were killed and had a large impact on Dickens' life as he was onboard the train at the time. After the incident, Dickens encounters an unusual man... and Egyptian, snake like creature called Drood with no eye-lids and who has the power of hypnosis and lives in the catacombes of London... A curious Dickens becomes obssesed with the Drood figure he meets.
Meanwhile Collins, our trusty narrator becomes more and more depedant on the use of laundenum, (supposedly used for medicinal purposes) and is pursued himself by Inspector Field. Inspector Field believes that Drood is responsible for over 3000 murders in London and some the cities worst deeds.
Another citicism of the novel is the characterisation of Drood, who although is without a doubt a fantastic villain, there is something about him that reminds us of Voldemort from the Harry Potter novels. Not only this Simmons' draws so much from the novels of Dickens and Collins that people may argue that he has used the work of others to pad out his own novel.
In a mixture of suspicion, opium dens, hypnosis and secret affairs the events of Drood makes for a half paranoid and half super natural delusion.
A fantastic novel that you cant put down.
Hot on the heels of his success with The Terror, Dan Simmons presents this Gothic Victorian tale all about the final years of Charles Dickens' life and the eternal enigma surrounding the writer's famously unfinished novel, The Mystery Of Edwin Drood. Fellow writer Wilkie Collins, our guide to this popular novelist's twilight years and the book's narrator, takes us back to the Staplehurst rail disaster where Dickens nearly lost his life and first meets Drood; a mysterious caped figure who walks among the injured and nearly dead casting some kind of mesmeric spell.
Over the next few years, Dickens obsession with Drood grows but he is not the only one determined to track down this strangely attired man. One Inspector Fields, on whom Dickens based the character of Inspector Bucket in Bleak House, has his own agenda which includes finding Drood and bringing him to justice. For Drood is a notorious figure in the London Underworld and has been held responsible for over 300 murders as yet unaccounted for!
Enlisting the aid of Wilkie Collins, forever destined to lurk in Dickens' shadow, Field tries his hardest to work out Dickens' supposedly secret agenda. In the meantime, Collins spirals ever deeper into first his Laudanum then later Opium addiction making him a less than reliable narrator as he begins to find it hard to distinguish drug-fuelled fantasy and hallucination from reality! Is Drood even real? Is he all just in both the authors' heads? What is Drood's secret purpose and what does he want with Dickens? These are all questions Simmons aims to address and what we get is both a highly competent and intelligent thriller that combines real events with classic paranormal fiction!
At times this feels much more like Wilkie Collins' story than it does Dickens with a lot of emphasis on Collins' battle with drug addiction and his life that is constantly plagued by gruesome manisfestations that appear to him in the dark hours of the night! Though Drood is advertised and talked about largely as being a novel about Dickens, there are many occassions where the late author of books such as Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers barely gets featured. Later chapters however dealing with Divckens' final American reading tour are almost touching and emotional by comparison as Dickens' body starts to fail him!
If there are a couple of points where Simmons' book fails, it is in the story's length and its less than satisfactory ending! The novel runs for 800 pages and there are times when you do wonder if it could have been culled a little! Also, an explanation for the events that enfold presented in the closing chapters feels a little disappointing.
Where this book does work is in its accurate and convincing depictions of Victorian London with imagery so believable and intense that there are times when you can almost feel as though you can smell the stench of human excrement coming off the banks of the Thames. With its themes of long-dead Egyptian gods and forbidden cults and sects, there is much here that is reminiscent of the film, Young Sherlock Holmes and there are many times, especially when Dickens and Collins descend into the Undercity that lies beneath the London streets, when there is a real sense of Boys Own adventure stories. It is true that at times Drood the novel is less than perfect, however I do not believe it deserves entirely the huge amount of criticism that has been thrown at it!
There are many things I liked about this book and more than a few things I didn't but for me it was an enjoyable read even if it did take some time to wade through. But the difference between this and Simmons' previous book is that The Terror was a truly great novel whilst this is just a good one! It is not one I would choose to keep but I do not regret reading it and it was fun for the week that it lasted!
Those familiar with Dan Simmons' previous works such as Hyperion, will enjoy another brilliantly written, exciting but althogether different adventure, not through time and space, but the labyrinthine world of Victorian East-End London and other even darker and more mysterious locations. The story is part-fiction, but based around real-characters and events from the fictional memoirs of author, Wilkie Collins, telling of his relationship with the inimitable Charles Dickens
Throughout the novel, Collins wrestles with an uncontrollable opium habit, as well as a ravaging envy of Dickens himself. The main plot revolves around the spectral, half-imagined figure of Drood, who occupies and controls the subterranean labyrinth known as Undertown. It is into this dark setting, that Collins and Dickens descend in order to try and solve the mystery of the power of Drood.
Intertwined with the frequent trips to the opium-dens and subterranean layers, are the complex relationships which exist and frequently change between the protagonist, Collins, and his close friend, but often scourge, Dickens. Simmons manages to portray the complex blend of love and hatred that Collins feels for Dickens, and the gradual alienation that this creates between the pair.
Overall, Drood, combines different genres into one intense, exciting and multi-layered novel. However, perhaps more exciting than even the plot, are the descriptions of the people and places which give the story its great substance and visionary quality.