Thursday, January 22, 2009

Early Review: Drood

When I was offered the chance to read a novel starring two of my favorite authors as the main characters, Wilkie Collins (as narrator) and Charles Dickens, I jumped at the chance. Drood, written by Dan Simmons, is a psychological thriller based in Victorian London. Charles Dickens is in a life-changing train accident -- perhaps too life-changing. Has he become part of a dark underworld of drug addicts, murderers and mind-controlled minions? His friend Wilkie Collins follows him to the lowest depths to find the answers.

Simmons obviously did copious amounts of research and he has possibly included every biographical fact about Dickens and Collins that is available. He has written a very tangible portrait of London, especially its seamy underbelly, in the late 19th century. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this book as I thought I would. Many of the highly positive reviews I have read of the novel mention that the reader hasn't read much or any of Dickens or Collins books. I, on the other hand, have read many of their stories and I just didn't find the writing convincing as the work of a 19th century novelist, especially Collins, whose style I am very familiar with. The writing isn't bad, it just isn't this particular novelist's voice.

I also disliked the way that Dickens and Collins were portrayed. I have read books where some of my literary heroes, both fictional (Sherlock Holmes) and non-fictional (Edgar Allan Poe), have been turned into villains but they were still always written as true to character. This book takes liberties with the character and habits of these men to a degree that I was uncomfortable with. I worry that this book could give people false impressions of these men and their works.

I did enjoy the way that Simmons incorporated novels such as Bleak House and The Moonstone into the book. There were some interesting insights into the books and the process of writing a serialized novel. I also appreciated the emphasis on some of the social issues of the time -- the same issues that Dickens himself wrote about -- especially poverty.

This was a unique story but I think that some parts were just a bit too far-fetched and violent and the ending seemed rushed. After over 750 pages, I would have appreciated a bit more closure. If you haven't read any books by Charles Dickens or Wilkie Collins and are interested in them, go pick up a nice Oxford edition and read the biographical information at the beginning. If you want a Victorian thriller and don't mind if the characters are true-to-life, this book is for the most part entertaining. Drood is available on February 9th.

Avoiding the seamy side of town,

Buy Drood: A Novel on Amazon or find it at your local library.


  1. I've been skeptical of this book, and your review confirms my instincts about it.

    Tweaking fictional characters (as Laurie King does with Sherlock Holmes) and writing fictionalized accounts of real incidents (as in Justine Picardie's Daphne) make some sense to me, but I don't entirely understand this trend toward putting favorite authors and historical figures into obviously manufactured situations like this (or, say, the Jane Austen mysteries). Why not make up your own new characters? It's working for Michael Cox.

  2. Teresa - I'm glad that my review helped you. I was hesitant to write it because it wasn't very positive but I know that there are other readers out there like me who take their writers and characters seriously. And I am totally avoiding the Jane Austen mysteries!

  3. How interesting. I love Wilkie Collins and like Charles Dickens and have read a bit of both their works (particularly Wilkie Collins), so Drood sounds like something I might be drawn to. Thanks for the heads up, though, on the characterization. I'm not sure I would like this. I think I would prefer to continue on reading Bleak House and contemplating my next Wilkie Collins instead....

  4. Danielle - I definitely need to read another Wilkie Collins soon to get this book out of my head and to redeem poor Wilkie. I have Hide and Seek as my next book to read of his.

  5. This was a very good review. Your critique of the book was thoughtful and interesting. I also liked that you pointed out positives to the writing as well.

    The one Wilkie Collins novel I tried to read, The Woman in White, I could not get through. I do not know if this was the edition I had or what. It was too slow for me.

    I don't understand how Simmons managed to write a book from another author's viewpoint without capturing said author's voice and manage to publish it. Perhaps the publishers did not read Collins themselves? Or maybe just thought not enough people had for it to matter to the readers.

    Oh and thanks for the recommendation on Agatha Christie!

  6. Rebecca -- It was obvious that Simmons did a lot of research on Collins' life but I wonder if he had ever read anything Collins himself wrote ...