Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Drood - Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons
Little, Brown and Company

Historical Fiction/Mystery

In the opening line, narrator Wilkie Collins wonders if we, the readers in his future, will even remember who he was. Oh, Wilkie. Not only do I remember you, but I adore your gossipy, unreliable, mean-spirited, laudanum-laced, proto-snark style of narration. I could listen to you tell this tale forever and never be bored. Your every tangent is entertaining; each pointed observation a thing a beauty.

DROOD is presented as a memoir, penned by Wilkie Collins and withheld from publication for 125 years after his death so as not to cause harm to anyone living during his time. It’s the story of how his friend, Charles Dickens, “the Inimitable,” came to write (but leave uncompleted upon his untimely death) The Mystery Of Edwin Drood.

According to this account, it all began when Dickens was involved in a horrific train wreck. Many of the passengers were killed and mutilated, and Dickens, who was miraculously unharmed, rendered aid to the injured and dying until help could arrive. During that interval, as he later tells his friend and writing partner, Wilkie Collins, a ghoulish figure appeared, calling itself Drood, and everywhere he went, death seemed to attend him. Dickens and Collins decide to try and track down this strange personage, and descend into the underbelly of London to search.

The entire novel is written in the language and style that was in vogue during the time of Dickens and Collins, and this adds immeasurably to the experience. There’s a palpable sense of darkness and gloom hanging over the story from the very first page; a feeling that is only heightened by Collins’ jibes. Much like the rookeries of London, this story leads the reader down several shortened avenues and dead-end streets. Somehow, the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Perhaps reading the novel over the course of a few raw and windy late-winter evenings added to the ambiance, but I have no doubt that I would have been just as enthralled had I read it on a beach in full sunlight. Readers unfamiliar with the authors and their works and times will have no trouble, as Collins kindly provides background to the “Dear Reader.” Those with even a passing familiarity with Dickens, Collins, and their works will find a treasure trove here. This is the kind of book that I, as a reader, am thrilled to be lost in, and I find myself more than saddened when I turn the final page.

Rating: 10
February 2009
ISBN# 978-0-316-00702-3 (hardcover)


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