Drood by Dan Simmons
Bought for me for my birthday, by my 16-year old son who scored a huge hit last year when he bought me This Thing of Darkness. From the blurb I thought he'd done it again - a Victorian-set novel, narrated by Wilkie Collins, starring Charles Dickens and a gothic fiend, Drood. What's not to like?
Well, almost 800 pages later, my verdict is that I quite liked it. It could have been great but was actually vaguely disappointing. The author has clearly done A LOT of research into the lives of Dickens and Collins, and included all of it. The novel might have been stronger had he cut a lot of it and made it half the length.
It's a hard plot to summarise, but here goes. Five years before the end of his life, Dickens was involved in a train crash (fact). Flitting amongst the survivors, was a spectral figure named Drood (fiction) who Dickens becomes obsessed with, and passes his obsession onto Collins. Drood inhabits the tunnels and sewers and labyrinthine catacombs which exist beneath London, and the two men undertake an expedition into Undertown to search out Drood. As time goes on, Collins becomes more and more dependent on 'medicinal' opium, and also becomes more and more jealous of Dickens's success compared with his own. He gradually becomes an unreliable narrator, and his drug-fuelled delusions and fantasies become hard to separate from reality. Dickens by contrast seems increasingly well-grounded, although he's working himself into an early grave. Collins's obsession with the mysterious Drood leads him to believe he's being controlled by the fiend, and needs to commit a murder in order to be free. Who better to murder than his friend and rival, Dickens?
The ending, constrained as it had to be by history, is a little disappointing, though I have to admit I was glad to finish it and more than ready to read something different. Having said that, the book was intriguing, and Simmons has done a great job of mimicking the style of Victorian fiction especially that written by Collins. I'd recommend this if you're a huge Dickens and Collins fan, and have a lot of time to spare to read.