Gosh, it’s been a while since I’ve done a review, lol. To be honest, I haven’t been reading as much as usual (which makes sense since I’m on exchange, don’t have a lot of English books on me, and have far too many other things preoccupying my time for the past month and a bit). But at last, a review (albeit a somewhat short one?)!
By: Dan Simmons
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?
This book has been on my want-to-read list for quite a while actually. I was in desperate need of something this one time I was out waiting for an appointment and ended up picking this book up because unlike in North America, it’s in mass bound paperback form here (though it looks like it’s coming out in mass paperback over there soon too). The plot and setting intrigued me especially as I’ve written some of the books written by both Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.
For starters, the book is immensely detailed. Dan Simmons really took lengths researching the time period and the biographies of these authors. I don’t know much about the lives of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins beyond the basics so I can’t really say too much about the characterisations of these characters in comparison to their real-life counterparts but I thought they were fleshed-out quite nicely, with their flaws and everything. You really feel aggravated towards Dickens’s arrogance and entitlement as a famous author and see the flaws in Collins’s character. The myriad of other characters populating the story were also interesting in their own way, adding to the story.
Not that it wasn’t with its touch of the unnatural. There’s mesmerism involved, and dead old Egyptian cults, grisly murders and there’s the mysterious Drood himself. With Hallowe’en coming up, I thought it was certainly fitting that I was reading this book because some of the events really had a eerie vibe to it! As the story progresses however, you start questioning the way events are turning because of the reliability of the narrator himself, Wilkie Collins. Which events were true? Which ones were exaggerated? After all, Collins mentions it himself that he is a novelist, a sensationalist. There’s no doubt that a change had come over Dickens after the accident of 1865 but how much of it was exaggerated in the eyes of Collins (or through the influence of opium and laudum)? It does leave the reader wondering. If you do end up pondering on the same issue yourself, don’t expect a fully-resolved ending to that question. I admit, I was a bit disappointed that things were cleared up at the end as well as I wanted to, but I guess in the end it adds to the overall mystery of Drood and these strange happenings and events.
At the end, the novel really comes down to the close, competitive and unique relationship between Dickens and Collins. Collins himself admits it at the end, that their relationship was filled with good moments and fraught with disagreements and a sense of jealousy as one rose up to be hailed as one of England’s greatest writers and the other merely a sensation in the coat flaps of the other. Perhaps the overall narrative was Collins’ way of wrestling with their contemptuous relationship how many years onward. But their moments in the novel were fascinating to read, you really see the layers at work there.
Overall, it’s a fascinating read, if not a bit of a slow burn (which is fitting since it focuses a lot on Dickens). The mystery keeps you going, though I wish there was a bit more a definitive conclusion/revelation to it. But if you’re a Dickens and/or Collins fan, it’s well worth the read.