Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Dan Simmon's Drood brings alive the last days of Charles Dickens.
I am going to tell you right from the beginning I am a huge fan of Dan Simmons(http://dansimmons.com/). His Hyperion Cantos Series(Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion and Rise of Endymion) has to be one of my favorite sci-fi series. At work(Barnes & Noble) they are the first books I suggest when asked what is good in sci-fi.
But what is so great about Dan(if that make it sounds like I know him I don't but I figure he wouldn't mind me using his first name) is as a writer is doesn't let himself get pigeon-holed in one genre. Not only has he written sci-fi but horror(Summer of Night, A Winter Haunting), mystery(The Crook Factory, Hardcase) and straight forward fiction with The Terror and his latest Drood.
There are some who may classify The Terror and Drood as horror but they really aren't. Though there is some horror in them they are a fictionalized story around actual events and people. The Terror is based on the ill fated 1845 Franklin Expedition to to find a path across the Artic Circle to China. Drood is about the last 5 years of Charles Dickens life and the mystery surrounding his unfinished book the Mystery of Edwin Drood.
The book is narrated by Wilkie Collins who was the author of Women in White and Moonstone and a frequent collabrator of Charles Dickens(though he was no where near as poplular as DIckens but this plays well into the book). It is important to know as well that Collins do to having gout was a opium addict and heavy user of laudanum and morphine.
The books begins with the well know train wreck that Dickens was in on June 9th 1865 on the train to Londan near Staplehurst. There Dickens meets a mysterious gentleman who as Dickens was on the train(though as we come to find out later he wasn't travelling First Class as Dickens and not excactly coach either)named Drood. It seems that each person Drrod comes in contact with at the wreck is dead when Dickens approaches to help. This leads Dickens on search for the mysterious Drood.
This search will take both Dickens and Collins to the worse part of London's slums and even beneath them and bring to end their friendship.
Dan Simmons just perfectly captures the man Charles Dickens(his genius and ego as well has his compassion for the poor. Dickens pushed for many reforms to help the poor) and the world he lives in. Through Collin's eyes we see the toll the train wreck(after the wreck he was terrified of traveling by train and it was worse as he got older and sick) and the 5 remaining years after(Dickens died on June 9th 1870). take on him with his search for Drood, his famous readings both in his home land and America. But this also takes it's toll on Collins. We see Collin's jealousy(the opium and other drugs most likely heightened this feeling) of Dickens for at that time Dickens was one of the most revered writes of his time.
Dickens also was, as many in his time, heavely into the art of memorizing. An art which he was fully caple of and used in his readings as no one as ever or since then has really done.
But as the search goes on for Drood Collins is at first convinced there is no such person. Even with a former Chief Inspector(now a private detective) claiming other wise. No has seen Drood except for Dickens. But as Collins get pulled deeper into the search for Drood with Dickens on one side and the fanatic private detective on the other his own addictions and other problems(Collins had an aversion to marriage even though one lover lived with him in which he claimed as a servent and his other would bear him 3 children) would take their toll on him.
Dan Simmons is on best form here. The pacing and characters and scenery of the London in the late 1800s come alive. And Dan writes a hearty novel. This book comes in at a hefty 771 pages. Books of this lenghth are few and far between these days(when I was a kid it was rare to find a good book under 400 pages now it all to common. It's has if writers or the publishers, or both don't think the reading public will sit down for a long good book anymore). In a hand of a lesser writer this book could have dragged on, But Dan being the superb writer he is keeps the suspense going right to end of finding out just who Drood was.
As for who was Drood I will tell you as I kept reading I didn't know what to expect. But Dan surprised me. Again in the hand of a lesser writer the ending could have been so cliched.
There are many good writers out there today. But really great writers are rare. And Dan Simmons is a great writer. With Drood he doesn't let the reader down. He keeps the action and suspense going between the first and last page.