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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Drood by Dan Simmons

Drood by Dan Simmons. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-316-00702-3

I realize it's been over a month since I posted any book reviews here, but that doesn't mean I haven't been reading in all that time. Quite the contrary. The problem has been finding the time to write any reviews. I've got a whole stack of books piled up waiting for their reviews to be written. Now I'm getting desperate, because the library wants some of them back, and has actually charged my account until I return them!

OK, so let's get on it with it. I'm a big fan of Dan Simmons as a science fiction author, and you'll find reviews of two of his SciFi novels, Ilium and Olympos, on the blog. But Drood is definitely NOT science fiction.

So what is it? It falls into a category of fiction that I am calling “derivative fiction,” although I didn't coin the term myself. One of these days I'll put together an index of the examples found on this blog, and there are quite a few. By derivative fiction, I refer to books that are either sequels to, or somehow based on the work of a famous author from the past, whose works are now generally available in the public domain.

In this case, of course, the author is Charles Dickens, but also Wilkie Collins, a contemporary and “friend” of Dickens, largely unknown today. The title of this book, Drood, refers, of course, to the final novel Dickens wrote, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which remained unfinished at the author's death.

But in this story, Drood is the name for a sinister, underworld (quite literally) character of Egyptian origin, who may or may not exist, or who may or may not be a figment of the narrator's opium and laudanum induced fantasy. Or perhaps, he is the result of a post-hypnotic suggestion administered by Dickens, himself, on his “friend” Wilkie Collins.

Because Collins is the narrator of the novel; it is told entirely through his rather jaundiced perspective. Wilkie Collins is not a very nice person, especially in the way he treats women and servants, and he becomes increasingly jealous of Dickens as the story progresses.

Which takes a LONG time, I must say. Only because I'm such a fan of Simmons's previous work, and because of the literary and “derivative” nature of this work, did I give it the benefit of the doubt and continue reading it to the end. It is a massive tome, nearly 800 pages long, and it takes over 400 pages before the book begins to take on some of its more fantastical elements. It is in Chapter 25, page 426, that the book takes a sudden turn into horror. Which, previously unbeknownst to me, is a genre that Simmons has also explored.

So, what is my recommendation regarding Drood? If you're a confirmed Dan Simmons fan, you'll probably want to read it. And if you're intrigued by the idea of a novel at least loosely based on the last few years of the real life of Charles Dickens, then you'll probably want to read it. But you've got to have patience, and perseverance. This is not a journey to be taken lightly.

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  • I had a really, really hard time putting this book down. It's just my kind of novel: lots of adventure, lots of tension. The narrator has a tendency to wander a bit, going off on tangents when he should be following the story, but I didn't see the extra information (and there's a lot of it thrown in) as detracting from it. Rather, I liked all the biographical notes on both Dickens and Collins, and I liked the interactions they had with one another, and the creative give-and-take of information that lead to novels like The Moonstone and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

    By Anonymous Brasil, at 7:31 PM  

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