Tribune Print Share Text

In search of Dickens' Drood

Created date

November 23rd, 2010

Among his friends he was The Inimitable, sometimes Chief, but the rest of the world knew him as Charles Dickens, arguably the most famous writer on the planet. And on June 9, 1865, his life changed forever. It was on this day that Dickens, along with his alleged mistress Ellen Ternan, barely survived a horrific train crash at Staplehurst in Kent, England. Wandering the wreckage, the unscathed Dickens surveyed the carnage, gave what little aid he could to the injured, and as he did so, met a spectral creature called Drood. So begins Dan Simmons fictional tale of Dickens descent into a morbid obsession with death and its connection to the writer s final book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a work that he did not live to complete.

Cat-and-mouse escapade

Told from the view point ofThe Woman in Whiteauthor Wilkie Collins (Dickens real-life friend and collaborator), Simmons story tells of the cat-and-mouse escapade on which the two novelists embark in search of the elusive Mr. Drood. Their travels take them all over Britain, from the English countryside to their quarry s stomping grounds in the gas-lit bowels of London s notorious East End. The deeper they probe, the stranger the tale becomes. Between Dickens obsession and his companion s drug-addled mind, Simmons keeps the reader guessing as to whether this Drood is real or the product of Collins insatiable appetite for opium and The Inimitable s literary talents. Simmons himself is a gifted storyteller, having penned over a dozen science-fiction, fantasy, and historical novels. WithDrood(Little, Brown and Company, 2009) he manages to uphold his reputation as an author who consistently delivers. The book s dialogue is authentic, and its characters as real on the page as one might imagine them in life. Simmons deeply human portrayal of Dickens and Collins makes readers feel as though they knew them, perhaps even tagged along with the two on their strange adventure. Still, for all its strengthsDrood is also an example of self-indulgence.

But I digress

Like other authors of his stature, Simmons seems to fall victim to his own amusement. At several points throughout the book, his attention meanders into side stories that add little to the overall plot, only to excuse the slip with the oft-used transitional crutch: But I digress . . . Ultimately, the final judgment depends on the reader. If you re in search of a compact, fast-paced story, this is not the book for you. If you re a bargain hunter who doesn t mind a more gradual thrill, Simmons 800-page behemoth of a novel offers plenty of bang for your buck.