In 1865 a steam train derails whilst it is crossing a bridge at Staplehurst in Kent. Ten people are killed and forty more injured, some very severely. Amongst the shaken but unhurt passengers is the novelist Charles Dickens, who lends aid and succor to the dying and injured. Dickens is lauded as a public hero for his efforts, but the accident has a tremendous psychological impact on him which only seems to worsen as the years pass.
Wilkie Collins, a fellow novelist and sometimes-collaborator of Dickens, observes Dickens' decline following the accident, and is particularly bemused by Dickens' account of a spectral figure called 'Drood' who appeared in the aftermath of the crash. Dickens apparently becomes obsessed with finding Drood, embarking on lengthy explorations of London's criminal and literal underground in search of the figure, aided by Collins. A private investigator named Fields joins the chase, informing Collins that Drood is a serial killer and mass-murderer, and Collins soon finds himself embroiled in a complex and clandestine struggle. These events are made all the more confusing due to Collins' own reliance on opium (a painkiller for his gout) and the fictional events of the two novels that Collins and Dickens are inspired to write by these events (The Moonstone and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, respectively) become entwined with the 'real' events that are transpiring.
Drood is a complex novel, huge in length, exacting in detail and relayed to the reader through a narrator so unreliable - Collins - that is very hard to know what is 'real' (as in 100% back up by historical fact), what is reliable (or true in the sense of the novel's narrative) and what is pure fantasy (either an outright lie or a drug-induced fantasy). As with Suzanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Simmons has attempted to write a book that is almost Victorian in its own construction (not to mention its formidable and possibly unnecessary length), but unlike Clarke's book, Drood is less obviously a fantasy, existing somewhere between historical novel and a literary and metaphorical work. Simmons also raises a lot of issues and ideas here, from the struggles all novelists and writers face in writing their books (thankfully without descending to self-indulgence) to the social issues the day. He even finds time to further explore the aftermath of the events of The Terror, his previous novel about the Franklin Expedition, which took place a few years before the start of this novel.
The result could have a confusing mess, but Simmons' skills as a writer and the orchestrator of an immense and complex narrative shine through here. The writing is strong, the story is page-turning and the characters are convincing, although also increasingly repellent as the book goes on. Wilkie Collins, our narrator, becomes particularly unlikable as the book nears its conclusion and his less savoury aspects (such as his scandalous home life) are emphasised whilst some of his more positive ones (his work on behalf of 'fallen women') almost go unmentioned. In particular, whilst the book's fantastical elements and more far-fetched moments can be explained as part of Collins' drug addiction, one plot point towards the end of the book is pretty hard to swallow and rather unconvincing.
Overall, Drood (****) is a rich, well-written and satisfying novel, very clever in construction, which will reward re-reading. However, the ending is something of a let-down and the motives ascribed to (very well-known) historical characters are sometimes dubious. The book is available now in the UK and USA. Guillermo Del Toro has bought the movie rights to the book and is planning a film adaptation for the time after he has completed work on The Hobbit.
This journey through the cemeteries, opium dens and underground sewers of Victorian London is a good atmospheric read, but doesn't quite live up to its fascinating premise. However, it will almost certainly leave you wanting to learn more about Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and their works, which can only be a good thing.
Drood begins with the Staplehurst Rail Disaster of 1865, when the train on which Charles Dickens is travelling crashes. As Dickens helps to rescue people from the wreckage, he encounters a mysterious figure dressed in a black cape who introduces himself only as 'Drood'. In the days following the train crash, Dickens becomes obsessed with discovering Drood's true identity. With the reluctant help of his friend and fellow author, Wilkie Collins, Dickens begins a search for Drood which leads them through the dark alleys and underground catacombs of London.
Interspersed with the Drood storyline are long passages in which we learn about the family life of both Dickens and Collins, how much they earned for their various novels, the details of Wilkie's laudanum addiction, Dickens' interest in mesmerism and every other piece of biographical information you could wish to know. Some readers might find this boring, but I enjoyed these sections - I thought the descriptions of Dickens' reading tours were particularly interesting. Another thing I liked about the book was the way Simmons deliberately tries to confuse and mislead the reader - at several points in the novel we are made to wonder whether something we've just read is real or an illusion.
The book is told in the form of a memoir written by Wilkie Collins and addressed to an unknown reader in the future. Simmons has attempted to imitate Collins' narrative style but I felt that he didn't get it quite right. He uses a lot of words and phrases that just sound either too modern or too American to me. Collins is one of my favourite writers, but in Drood he is portrayed as a mediocre author who is consumed with jealousy of the more successful Dickens and becomes increasingly bitter and unlikeable as the book goes on. I've read a lot of Wilkie Collins books and loved every one of them - I think he was a much better writer than this book suggests.
Overall, Drood could have been a fantastic book but left me feeling slightly disappointed.
on 1 February 2010
I tore into this book having enjoyed so many other works by Simmons. The opening chapters are racy and give a sense of mystery and adventure. Dickens in a train crash encounters Drood, a vampiric mystery man whose motives are unknown. Was he helping the injured towards death? Then the story started to flag and I read 300 pages of life in Victorian London. Sometimes the language jarred, but I forgave that. What I disliked was the continual unfulfilled promise that something was going to happen. I wish I had read the reviews here before I bought this book.
on 20 April 2010
Given to me as a present, I wasn't sure I would like this and for the first thirty or so pages I didn't. However, the story gradually reeled me in until I was mesmerised by this mysterious tale and I made it through it's 775 pages very quickly. Simmons paints a delightfully gloomy and dangerous picture of 19th Century London, which gives the story a dark and intriguing edge. Drood is a meld of light horror and a Dan Brown style mystery-thriller, which keeps the reader guessing throughout, as reality becomes blurred and confused. This is a very clever idea for a novel which only somebody of Simmons's caliber could execute.
on 16 April 2012
Despite a promising start, I've just thrown away this tedious hokum in disgust.
Simmons has obviously done a fair amount of research, which he constantly throws at us by quoting whole passages of original letters or text, like an overeager undergraduate student. But since he is supposedly writing in the voice of Wilkie Collins, he totally fails to even evoke the era, let alone emulate the literary style. He also throws in some howling anachronisms which show he really doesn't understand Victorian Britain at all, for example having a character describe a distance as "a few city blocks away". English cities don't *have* blocks!
Love some of your other books Dan, but I'm sorry, poor effort this time.
on 14 July 2009
Whenever i find myself mentioning Dan Simmons to someone who hasn't come across his books i always praise two things: his grasp of story and his ability to turn this skill to any genre. "Summer of Night" is a masterful horror tale, in many ways better than Stephen King's IT that is is often unfairly compared to. Hyperion is simply the best sci-fi i have ever read and "The Terror" was a brilliant melding of historical fiction and overt thriller.
However, it is this latter that Simmons tries to repeat with "Drood" and sadly he fails appallingly in my opinion. I have read Dicken's and Wilkie Collin's both academically and for pleasure and i was massively looking forward to the story once i saw it's synopsis. Sadly i found it to be an extremely tedious and uneven mixing of miniscule historical detail and ridiculous sensationalism. Simmons has clearly done an awful lot of research for the novel and my god does he want the reader to know about it. I'm all for inclusion of reality and anecdote but most of the time "Drood" reads like a dry-as-dust textbook. Andrew Sanders' biography of Dickens, despite it's non fiction status, is twice as involving and at least we can be sure of its accuracy.
The character's of Wilkie Collins and Dickens are the only two that the reader is ever invited to know. Everyone else orbits the pair without being suitably fleshed out. Most often they seem included merely to display the extent of Simmons' knowledge of Dickens's social circle. And the inclusion of Drood himself is so ludicrous that it almost seems to belong to another novel. It is obvious that the contrast betweent the dry factual passages and the sensational chapters involving Drood and the subtteranean London landscape serve to emphasise the two speheres of Dickens's existence. Unfortunately they are so poorly melded (unlike in "The Terror" where Simmons excels) that they jar and each makes the other seem ridiculous.
In short, if you want to know about the lives of these high victorian gentlemen, then the most worthwhile part of "Drood" is the bibliography of sources. If, on the other hand, you desire a great historical adventure story then read "The Terror" or indeed, Dickens himself.
A very strange book indeed. One that some people will find fulfilling but others will give up on well before the end of a book that runs to almost 800 pages. History, literature, the supernatural, opium addiction, Victorian London are all depicted at length as the story follows the relationship of writers Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.
But nothing is what it seems in a rolling narrative that I thoroughly enjoyed. It gives an excellent insight into both writers, although you are never quite sure how much is fact and how much is fiction. The story is written by Collins. Some readers will find it confusing that most of it is written through a drug induced haze, so you are never quite sure what is reality and what is dream induced nightmare. Put simply the story follows the relationship of the two after Dickens suffers a near death experience in a train crash which leaves him mentally scarred.
In the aftermath of the crash he meets the mysterious Drood and much of the book involves Dickens and Collins' relationship with this creature. To go any further would give the plot away too much. Considerable chapters in the book are given over to the relationship between the two writers and their decline from various ailments - some of which are self induced. It is unusual for an American writer to focus so closely on London but Simmons has done a good job. I still reckon, however, that after reading 50 pages of this you will have to make a conscious decision as to whether to stay the trip or not.
on 14 May 2014
Where do I begin folks.
I have written a few reviews now on amazon & I hate writing negative ones. Hate it. Nothing positive comes out of negativity, but I have to be negative when it comes to this book. so....................
Drood by Dan Simmons starts off at breakneck speed. The novel is narrated by Wilkie Collins, writer, literature genius & the best friend of a certain Charles Dickens. During a meeting with his friend Charles Dickens, Mr Dickens describes The Stapelhurst catastrophe to Wilkie & how he meet the ghoulish and sinister Mr Drood. Dickens becomes obsessed with the spectre as he fears that the man is responsible for the trajedy itself. Wilkie does not believe Dickens at first, but upon further evidence, Wilkie is thrown into a cat & mouse game with Dickens, the various corrupt members of the London Police, the sinister followers of one Mr Drood & even Drood himself. It all sounds terribly exciting, but believe me kids, it isn't.
Dan Simmons puts so much filler into this 771 page book that you want to tear your hair out and throw the book off of a wall. He spends many chapters describing the plays and books that Dickens & Wilkie have both wrote and even goes into full detail as to how certain actors portrayed their creations onstage. It is completely pointless and very boring to read. It feels like Dan Simmons is trying to be very Stephen King with his over the top descriptive writing, but fails miserably. He creates cliffhangers at the end of some chapters and opens the next chapter, without explaining how Wilkie Collins escapes from certain danger. I felt very unfulfilled whilst reading some of the product delivered in this book. I'm not the sort of person that is intimidated or frustrated by long books, but this book is looooooooooooooonnnggggg! & Very very boring in places.
There are things that take place in this book that are never explained. The green woman with tusks. Where the hell did she come from. The 2nd Wilkie. Why in the name of Harold Ramis was he there. And the THING!!! in the stairs that you never see, but is shot four times and is still alive, WHAT IS IT? Nothing makes sense. NOTHING!
I don't even think that the writer new what he was talking about. The character of Wilkie himself is an opium & Laudinum fiend. I wouldn't be surprised if Dan Simmons was injecting himself with opium whilst writing this book.
None of the characters in this book are redeemable. Wilkie is a drug addict & fiend. Dickens is so cocky and arrogant, that you want him to die. The strongest & most interesting character (Drood) is hardly even in the book. Why name a book after a certain character, when that character only appears in 40 pages or less. Criminal.
That is one of the books biggest faults. Drood is the most interesting character in the book & he is hardly in it. He appears at the beginning, somewhere in the middle & then a small cameo at the end. In a book that is 771 pages long, he appears in maybe 40 of those pages. Poor show.
I got so bored of some of the boring garbage in this title that I found myself skipping quickly over pages. I hate doing this as its not proper reading, but it had to be done. I would have went insane. Usually I'm a quick reader, but this book took me nearly a month & a half to read. It drags at a snail pace in places & should have been edited down to at least 500 pages. It would have saved us all a lot of time.
(A cat amongst the pidgeons) The book does have some positive points though. I know Ive spent most of the review trashing the author, but the man does have an excellent imagination. Within this book he has created a world of his own. Some of the things he describes are incredible. Undertown itself & the scenes involving the sewers are incredible. This is what made me give the book 3 stars. This is a 2 star book, but the authors imagination made me give it another star for that alone. I only wish that he had set most of the book in and under Undertown, & not on the life & times of Charlie Dickens. It would have been far more exciting to read. There are some real elements of horror too, and our author really knows how to create scenes of violence and real life horror when he wants to.
This book will be placed in my collection with all the other books that I have read. It will not be read again & I will not urge anyone to read it themselves. If you do decide to pick it up, I hope you enjoy it. I will be sticking to books that are more fast paced.
The schtick here is that Charles Dickens, helping victims at a train crash, encounters a cadaverous and mysterious 'gentleman' called Drood, who seems to have a hand in hastening death among the injured. Fascinated and repelled by this creature, Dickens confides in his friend and fellow writer Wilkie Collins, and the two of them set out to search for Drood in the labyrinth of crypts and sewers beneath London.
The gothic yarn, itself a dark labyrinth, is narrated by Collins, who does not emerge well in this portrait: the reader sees an envious, vain, misogynistic and drug-addled little man, seething in Dickens' shadow. (If you've seen "Amadeus", Collins plays Salieri to Dickens' Mozart.) Dickens too is presented warts and all, but since everything is seen through the laudanum-drenched and gout-ridden eyes of Collins, the reader must be careful in judgement. Indeed, atop the unreliability of the self-serving narrator are layers of hallucination and hearsay, opium and mesmerism: the reader is aware that the narrative can't be trusted, but it is fiendishly difficult to tease apart the fiction and the phantasms, both deftly woven in amongst the facts of these two writers' latter years.
Simmons' fulsome research here suffuses the book without hobbling it, as has sometimes happened in some of his earlier novels. The narrative voice of Wilkie Collins, self-revealing yet blind to his own faults, is an excellent piece of mischief, and Simmons ingeniously provides for the reader a denouement that neither of his protagonists can fully understand. For all its colourful horrors, intricate thrills and wild delirium, this is finally a book about writers - artists - enslaved by their work: the burden of genius, and the tragedy of knowing you aren't one. It's a treat for fans of either writer, and among Simmons' best.
on 20 August 2012
Some fairly polarised reviews for Drood, and I can understand why. Recently there's been a huge increase in the amount of historical fiction novels kicking about. Anno Dracula, Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter etc. I've read quite a few of them, but I did find Drood to be one of the better ones. Having said that, the story was padded out somewhat.
Drood starts with the Staplehurst rail crash, and Charles Dickens encounter with a strange and mystical figure named Drood. While to start with, I was expecting the majority of the story to centre around this Drood character and Dickens' quest to find him, that became sort of incidental to a detailed telling of Wilkie Collins' personal life with Drood providing a link between several characters.
We're told this story from the perspective of Wilkie Collins. Collins starts off by stating that he had written this text with the intention of it being published years after his death, when we modern readers will have forgotten about him. I know this is a fictional story but I found myself thinking "we've not forgotten about you, Wilkie!". The incarnation of Wilkie in this story paints him as a somewhat pathetic, envious and devious character. He's always boasting about how his books outsold Dickens books, how Dickens based many of his characters on ones that Wilkie himself created and is often very saracstic when referring to Dickens. Dickens is painted more favourably. Generous, eager to laugh, an old romatic, welcoming... but we always have an undertone of something a bit sinister. Wilkie's portrayal has very little positive surrounding it.
This is part of what makes Wilkie such an unreliable narrator. While fairly early on it's made clear that Wilkie doesn't believe Drood exists, we're also told that he's haunted by a mysterious woman and also a Doppleganger (The "other" Wilkie) who uses his study at night. Two phantoms no-one else sees. While Wilkie pretty much suggests that Dickens is mad, and his hunt for Drood is Dickens chasing a figment of his imagination, Wilkie himself isn't entirely on the ball. his unreliable narration is further muddled by his dependency on laudnum and later, pure opium. It's then further complicated by his growing dislike of Dickens. I felt the climax of the novel was a bit of a let down, simply because (and I'm trying not to give anything away!) we're still not sure what's actually going on. We don't really have any more clarification on Drood, Dickens and Wilkie than we had towards the start of the novel. We have an explanation, but given Wilkie's mental state, I'm still not sure what's real and what's an opiate-based suggestion. There are several other loose ends that aren't tied up which would go some way to clarifying the point, but they're left hanging (the daughter of Wilkie's housekeeper, for example, if Dicken's version of events is real, what happened to her...?).
Simmons' descriptions of London's festering streets, sewers, graveyards and crypts fascinated me and were very atmospheric. This is what had drawn me to the book in the first place as I have a slightly morbid fascination with Victorian London/Edinburgh. However, this is one hefty text and there's a lot of other stuff thrown in that beefs it out. I didn't mind, but I can see why it put others off. I don't feel it detracted from the pace of the story. Simmons includes a lot of information about the two writers working together, the plays they put on, the lighting on stage, the travel plans, the food, what Dickens wore, the alleged affairs Dickens had, the affairs Wilkie had, his homelife situation for tax purposes.... all that kind of thing is included. Some readers may be cynical about this and feel it's there simply to pad out the story but I didn't mind it. It gave a nice bit of character development.
This novel I'd say is one of those that starts out well. It compltely drew me in. I put up with the incidental background information as I feel it did help understand the mindset of Dickens and Wilkie, but the ending.... I still don't get what's going on. I have my theory which to say here would spoil the text for others, but a bit more solid clarification would have rounded this story off nicely.
Still one of the better historical fiction texts around at the moment. It'd be good to see it made into a film.