Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

Review: Drood

Dan Simmons
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Pub. Date: February 2009
ISBN-13: 9780316007023


Here is the blurb from Barnes and Noble:

“Bestseller Simmons (The Terror) brilliantly imagines a terrifying sequence of events as the inspiration for Dickens’s last, uncompleted novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, in this unsettling and complex thriller. In the course of narrowly escaping death in an 1865 train wreck and trying to rescue fellow passengers, Dickens encounters a ghoulish figure named Drood, who had apparently been traveling in a coffin. Along with his real-life novelist friend Wilkie Collins, who narrates the tale, Dickens pursues the elusive Drood, an effort that leads the pair to a nightmarish world beneath London’s streets. Collins begins to wonder whether the object of their quest, if indeed the man exists, is merely a cover for his colleague’s own murderous inclinations.”

My thoughts:

As wonderful as the premise is, this is really the story of a man, Wilkie Collins who finds himself completely infatuated by another man, that man being Charles Dickens. Infatuated, yet envious of all he does and has. As readers know, Wilkie Collins was also a well known author during this time (1850-1889). He wrote The Woman in White, The Moonstone and many plays and short stories. His envy slowly turns to hatred and in a matter of years his good friend becomes his enemy. However, as much as Wilkie has grown to dislike Dickens, he still feels privileged to be in his presence and has hurt feelings when he is not asked to be a part of Dicken’s life. It’s that “best friend” syndrome that some of us face when our BFF is more popular than we are.

I enjoyed the rivalry. Simmons did a good job of portraying Wilkie as a talented sort, but one that clearly believes that his work tops that of Dickens. There are a lot of asides to the reader where Wilkie talks directly to us as he is telling his tale. Personally, I enjoyed these little tidbits of information. It was sort of like a flashing neon sign asking the reader to pay attention and pay attention I did, as the book is over 750 pages long and I didn’t want to miss a key piece of information.

As we learn about Wilkie’s drug addiction and his and Dicken’s quest to find Drood, we are introduced to a world that is called Undertown. This is a world that exists under the streets of London and is inhabited by the poor, the unwanted and a drug lord that happens to provide the fix that Wilkie needs to survive. The world that Simmons creates is full of crypts and unimaginable smells and I loved all of its disgusting goodness. However, I didn’t think there was enough of it. I was left wanting a bit more.

As they continue to search for Drood, the reader is left to ponder what is real, and what is fiction. Much of the book is based on historical fact but since The Mystery of Edwin Drood was never actually finished, there is a lot that can be surmised. Add to that Wilkie’s opium addiction and Dickens’ ability to mesmerize (hypnotize) and what you’ve got is one big question mark.
There are lots of different ways to interpret the ending of this book. I have my own thoughts on it, but I would love to discuss this book with others who have read it.

As for the writing, Simmons can tell a story. One of the reasons why it took me so long to read this book is that I thoroughly enjoyed his writing style and was in fact savoring it. With that said, I do feel that it was a tad too long. The part that immediately comes to mind is when Dickens travels to the States. There seemed to be a lot of information on his trip that I personally, didn’t think was necessary to tell this particular story. I was also a bit overwhelmed with the various female characters. They didn’t seem to evolve during the course of the story and it would have been nice to see a slightly different side to them.

It’s not necessary for you to have read the works of Dickens or Collins prior to reading Drood but it might help since there are references made to prior works. In comparison to another Simmons book that I read recently (The Terror), Drood was not as tightly woven but still an adventure worth taking.

To read more about Dan Simmons, click here.
To read my review of The Terror, click here.

The book was sent to me by the lovely Miriam over at Hachette Book Group. Thanks Miriam!

Audio Book: Thunderstruck, by Erik Larson

I just finished listening to Thunderstruck, by Erik Larson. Here’s the blurb from Barnes & Noble:

A true story of love, murder, and the end of the world’s “great hush”.

In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson tells the interwoven stories of two men—Hawley Crippen, a very unlikely murderer, and Guglielmo Marconi, the obsessive creator of a seemingly supernatural means of communication—whose lives intersect during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time.

When this book came out, I immediately added it to my “to read” pile because I very much enjoyed The Devil In The White City. However, once I read a few pages I decided to pick-up other titles instead. The opening pages did not grab me like Devil did. A year passed.. and although it was still in my “to read” pile, I decided to pick-up the audio version instead.

Much like Devil, this book is made up of basically two stories. The story of Marconi and how wireless telegraphy came about and the story of Hawley Crippen, a doctor that falls in love with a woman who does not love him. The book alternates between science and invention, and the troubled relationship between Hawley and his wife Belle. As you are listening to the alternating stories, the reader is left wondering how the two stories intersect.

In Devil, the two stories intersect almost immediately. In Thunderstruck, they do not intersect until the last fourth of the book. This created some problems for me. For one, the story of how telegraphy came into being is interesting, but did not hold my attention on its own. I looked forward to hearing more about Crippen and Belle.

Crippen is quite taken with Belle, but Belle treats him miserably throughout their marriage. They agree to be married in “appearance” but in fact, sleep in separate beds. Belle surrounds herself with fine things, paid for by Crippen’s unending supply of cash but even though their future looks bleak, he still holds hope that their marriage will somehow survive.

After years of living this way, Dr. Crippen meets Ethel, a young typist that works in his office. She sees him as an older, wiser man and looks to him for guidance. This appeals to Crippen as Belle always took matters into her own hands. Eventually, the two begin to feel affection for one another. It is shortly after this time that Belle goes missing and then Crippen receives news that Belle has died from illness.

Belle’s whereabouts and her sudden illness cause suspicion amongst the people that knew her and an investigation is launched to find out the truth. This is where I felt the story took a turn and where the stories began to intersect. The introduction of wireless communication allowed the public a glimpse of what would otherwise be private. I found this part of the story to be intriguing.

As a whole, Thunderstruck fell a bit short for me but there were sections that were very well written and some of the characters held my interest. Perhaps reading it in book form would have given me a different perspective.

If you have read it, I’d be interested in hearing your comments.