Book Review: Drood

Drood: A Novel

Dan Simmons 
Hardcover, 784 pages
Little Brown & Company
February 09, 2009

 

I was trying to think of how I wanted to write this review and I still haven’t really decided, but I thought I’d take a whack at it anyway.  The problem is there are just so many little twists and turns that I would love to share with you but I don’t want to give too much away. 

~In fact, I really hope someone replies and says they’ve read it so I can talk about it with them!~

The book is an examination of the last years of Charles Dickens’ life and his obsession with an entity (Phantom?  Mass murderer?  Hallucination?) known simply as Drood.  It’s told in the voice of Wilkie Collins – fellow author, collaborator, and protegé to the famed Dickens – who begins the tale with a graphic and intense description of a railway accident that Dickens survives, never to be the same again.    That first chapter hit me like a sucker punch in the stomach and I instantly knew that I was going to be drawn into the story.

Wilkie soon finds himself tangled up in a macabre world of  underground opium dens, wild children, ancient Egyptian rites and rituals – and of course – murder, all while battling his own personal demons (and juggling his two current mistresses).  While most gentlemen of the period partake in medicinal laudanum a few drops at a time, diluted in wine, by the middle of the book Wilkie is downing glass after glass in addition to regular visits to the aforementioned opium den to smoke the drug in its most potent forms. 

He’s also haunted by a sickening and terrifying hag-phantom, who gets ever more violent and corporeal, along with the doppelgänger that has been with him since childhood (who sometimes pens his works when he’s in a laudanum induced sleep).

It’s obvious that the relationship between the two writers has never been one of equals and throughout the book Wilkie struggles to prove himself as superior to the beloved Dickens, who styles himself the Inimitable, and it’s hilarious when he launches into tirades about how ridiculous he finds Dickens’ writing to be.  Meanwhile, Dickens is becoming increasingly obsessed with mesmerism and mind control as Wilkie teams up (unwillingly at first) with a private detective who’s hell-bent on catching the infamous Drood.  The detective’s plan is to follow Dickens at all hours in the hopes that he’ll lead them to the wanted man himself.

I absolutely loved this book.  I was completely captivated and fascinated right up to the last sentence.  The last word in fact!  Wilkie is a well-written, wonderful character who’s incredibly witty and sarcastic and I loved being along for the ride as he struggles to distinguish reality from fantasy and unravel the mysteries of London’s undertown and Drood and his minions. 

Aside from all the gritty, gruesome moments (and there were plenty of those), I really enjoyed reading about Wilkie’s books as they were being developed.  Writing The Moonstone is a central theme and he also writes Man and Wife as well as adapts several of his works into plays throughout the course of the book.  As an aspiring writer I was particularly interested in learning about the lifestyle of a novelist in the 19th century and how different it was doing research (no internet!) and dealing with publishing and publicity back then.

The mystery of Drood kept me guessing until the very end, and again I’m trying my best not to include any spoilers here.  And if you’ve ever read Dickens’ last (unfinished) book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, you’re almost given satisfaction as to who the murderer was (if Edwin Drood was actually dead) when Dickens is about to reveal the truth to Wilkie before being interrupted.  I haven’t read it myself, but after this story I’m dying to get my hands on it along with more Dickens and definitely some of Wilkie Collins’ books (especially The Woman in White and The Moonstone, which I hear are both fantastic).

Kudos to Dan Simmons, I really enjoyed this book.  It was dark, chilling, and masterful, dotted with dark humor and filled with danger, violence and excellent imagery and descriptions.  I would definitely give it a spot in my top five reads for the year.

Has anyone else read this or Dickens’  The Mystery of Edwin Drood?  How about our narrator Wilkie Collins?

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10 Comments »

  1. Can’t wait to get to this one on my TBR pile. You said previously it took you a while to read this book, so, because of its many twists and turns, did you find it difficult to remember what was going on? (I, too, usually take disproportionately longer to read long books than it takes me to read short books, so getting lost in the maze is always a concern…)

    Great review!

    • Jamye Said:

      Thanks!

      Yes, it did take me quite a while to finish but surprisingly I always remembered exactly what was going on (even with reading a bunch of other books at the same time). Let me know what you think of it when you read it!

  2. Dionne Said:

    Mom just lent me The Woman in White–I think I’ll read it after finishing The Name of the Wind (and oh my God, I am HOOKED on that one–you were right, it’s amazing!). My mom is really into Dickens at the moment and has some great recommendations if you want to ask her about it. One I know she thinks is great is Bleak House, but there were two others that she especially liked whose names I can’t remember since they were ones I had never heard of. Anyway, I’ll ask her for those titles for you if you want! 🙂

    • Jamye Said:

      Awesome, let me know how it is!

      Bleak House was mentioned quite a bit in Drood and I almost bought it last time I was at Borders but I went with A Tale of Two Cities instead.

      Yeah, definitely want more Dickens recs!

      I knew you’d love Name. Now you’ll have to suffer with me waiting for the sequel. Mwahahaha! 😉

  3. The Woman is White is one of my all-time favorite mysteries. I’m intrigued by the concept of Wilkie Collins narrating – will definitely add Drood to my TBR list!

    • Jamye Said:

      I absolutely loved Wilkie telling the story and now I’m really excited to read one of his books – and I think I’ll start with The Woman in White.

      I hope you like Drood as much as I did!

  4. jake Gest Said:

    Nice review,
    I agree the book was amazing.

    • Jamye Said:

      Thanks! Have you read any of his other books?

      • jake Gest Said:

        Yes, I’ve read the first two Hyperion books. I enjoyed them immensely as well. I think what draws me to his work is how much research he is willing to do for them and how top notch his writing is. A lot of Genre Fiction -especially science fiction- can really suffer from poor writing and lack of depth, so it’s refreshing to read an author that can write within the genre but break those boundaries.

        How bought’ yourself?

      • Jamye Said:

        The only other one I’ve read is Children of the Night, which was probably about 12 years ago. I remember liking it but Drood absolutely blew me away. I’ve heard good things about Ilium and Song of Kali but I’ll have to add the Hyperion books to my wish list too!


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