Friday, December 11, 2009

Dan Simmons - Drood (Book Review)

"DROOD" (Amazon: UK, US)
Format: Paperback, 816/784 pages
Publisher: Quercus / Little, Brown and Company (Feb 2009, first edition)
Last summer, I've written a post regarding books we like and how hard it can be to review them – can you remain objective? Should you remain objective? Drood is one of such books and I can't really decide whether I'm infatuated with it or it really is that good.

"Drood", like "The Terror", is neither fantasy nor science fiction – it's historical fiction, but unlike " The Terror", "Drood" concentrates more on 'historical' than on 'fiction'. Our narrator is Wilkie Collins, who introduces us to his life as a writer, one of Charles Dickens' closest friends and a member of 19th century's London upper class.

"Drood" presents Dickens and Collins in the time when they were both already established writers, praised all over England, neither of them short on money or company. Their lives, as well as everyone involved, are subject to their various whims and thus often a fine source of gossip; while Dickens dismissed his wife and forbid her to enter his house again, Collins is unmarried but has two lovers who don't know about each other. While both authors readily cooperate, they just as readily dismiss each other's work as petty, unimaginative or just plain bad writing. The older they get, the wider the gap between them becomes – with a little help from the mysterious Mr. Drood, whose past and skills obsess Dickens.

In most reviews of "Drood" I've read, people mostly complain about "Drood" being too long and mostly just Dickens' biography. Neither of these bothered me. I actually enjoyed how SIMMONS took his time and 'spent' many pages to create a perfect atmosphere and explain the background of the story. Admittedly, this was probably a bit easier for him than if he set his story in a fictional place, because a lot is known about 19th century London and its upper class, but it still takes a certain amount of skill to present it as intriguing and engrossing as SIMMONS did. "Drood" hardly reads as a history textbook or a biography, more as a work of pure fiction. One of the possible reasons to why its length didn't really bother me might lie in the fact that I've recently read a lot of first-part-of-the-series novels, and they rarely left me satisfied because they centered more on action, offering an immediate, but not lasting satisfaction, and less on explanation and wholeness – there is enough time for the latter in one of the sequels. "Drood," though, is a standalone novel, and as such has to offer some explanation, background and so on.

As for the biography part of criticism – well, I can't really say, since in all those years I spent in school, we only mentioned Dickens a couple of times. And when I say mentioned, I mean exactly that – we listed his name along with other writers of his era, but we never got further than that. We never had to read any of his works, and I never knew that Wilkie Collins existed. Because of that, reading "Drood" was in a way like watching a great documentary; biography was just a logical part of the book and I found it more interesting than boring.

As mentioned, SIMMONS takes a step forward from "The Terror" here; by introducing an unreliable narrator, he successfully manages to blur the line between facts and fiction and thus piquing reader's interest. The book starts as a tale of two 19th century writers' everyday life, but slowly evolves into a gripping and unexpected tale, full of suspense. Highly recommended.



I'm totally out of practice, guys. I don't remember the last time I read so little. I've read maybe 10-20 books since June, which is just SAD. I have written 2 (unfinished) reviews. Sucks to be me, I guess?


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