Tag Archives: The Last Dickens

Guest Post: Matthew Pearl on Serial Thrillers & a GIVEAWAY!

Matthew Pearl, author of the bestselling novel The Last Dickens, is stopping by Book Chatter and Other Stuff today and I couldn’t be happier! As you may recall, as part of his TLC book tour, I reviewed his book and really enjoyed it. Click here for the review. Today, Matthew talks about serial thrillers. Would they work in today’s society?

Dickens: Serial Thriller

In the 19th century, many novels were published serially in installments. Charles Dickens is the most cited and probably most famous example of a serial novelist.

I’m often asked about the impact of serialized writing since I used Dickens as a focus in my new novel The Last Dickens. I’ve noticed in these questions a nostalgia or at least a curiosity about serializing stories. Novelists back then would often live at the edge of their deadline for the next installment, or just a few installments ahead of publication (it’s hard to imagine most novelists these days, myself included, being so good at deadlines!). Readers would line up on the last day of each month in London for Dickens’s latest installments, sometimes published in a magazine or journal, sometimes on its own as a stand-alone supplement. People would grab it and start reading. Imagine the suspense they felt, not having been able just to turn the page to see what would come next.

Writers were in suspense, too. Dickens kept a close eye on sales, professional reviews and public reaction to each installment, and sometimes one or all of those influenced his decisions on where the story should go.

The truth is, it’s harder and harder for us to relate to those readers. We live in an on-demand age. We can download entire books with the press of a button on the day of publication. People often talk about reading an entire novel in a single day or a few days. In fact, I notice attention spans might be reaching the point where some consumers insist they should be able to read a novel in a few days, or they don’t read it at all. We’re now accustomed never to wait for our fiction—at least once publication day rolls around.

That’s what is especially interesting about The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the jumping-off point for my novel. It was Dickens’s final novel and he died roughly in the middle of the writing process. In response to the existing fragment, there are as many scenarios as one can imagine as to where Dickens might have been going, from the straightforward to the bizarre. Whenever we read Edwin Drood today, we enter the same positions as those readers in September of 1870 when the last known installment was published. In other words, The Mystery of Edwin Drood freezes for all time the feeling of reading a novel in installments, a sensation we’ve largely forgotten.

That’s what appealed to me so much about using The Mystery of Edwin Drood as the basis for The Last Dickens. I wanted to dramatize the way the reader, publisher, and author all converged in this very real-time process of finding satisfaction from an incomplete novel. I’ve hoped to dramatize that into a quest, by Dickens’s real life American publisher, James Ripley Osgood, to find the ending to the book. The Last Dickens, essentially, picks up the story inside the limbo of the unfinished serial. My novel is even separated into six sections I title “Installments.”

As much as we might feel a rush of satisfaction trying to read a novel in a day or two, maybe we long for the community spirit that came from everyone reading installments at the same time. There is at least one excellent website channeling Dickens by serializing short stories each week, including Year of the Pig, one of my own. Another site, DailyLit.com offers to email or send a feed of serialized installments of many classic works of literature and some newer books. DailyLit’s idea is that people’s lives and schedules today are so fragmented, that reading in installments actually fits our modern rhythms better than full length books.

Television shows, one of the modern serialized forms of entertainment, may have entered a new epoch with the rise of series on DVD as well as the hoarding of episodes on digital recordings through Tivo or DVR. How many people (including myself) have spent a lazy day watching half a season or more of The Wire, Deadwood or Curb Your Enthusiasm? A funny thing. If you have the patience or willpower to wait before starting a show, you can avoid ever waiting to see how the next episode or the whole series will turn out. This is a fairly recent phenomenon. Serial adventure shorts used to be a mainstay of cinemas in the 1950s, and were converted in spirit into full length features like Star Wars and the Indiana Jones series in the 1970s and 80s, in which we sit through a complete story all at once (though obliged to wait for sequels and prequels).

Unfolding news stories, which we can’t get ahead of because they’re still happening, may be our last pure vestige of serial narratives, with journalists the new serial writers (Dickens himself started in journalism). Perhaps this is why news stories so often are presented in sensational narrative formats, and why certain otherwise narrow occurrences—murder mysteries, missing persons, personal scandals—that might have been found in any one of Dickens’s novels are elevated to national and international headline status. These stories often don’t directly impact many people, but we crave the real suspense that can only come from installment reading (or viewing).

Do you think we maintain the spirit of nineteenth century serials anywhere else in our culture? At some level, do we long for that feeling of anticipation rather than immediate gratification, or have we become just too busy for that? Any memories of how a serialized story became important in your own life as a reader or audience member?


Thanks to TLC Book Tours for asking me to be a part of this tour.

Check out the rest of Mathew’s tour stops here.

To visit Matthew’s website, click here.

To purchase the book, please visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or an independent bookseller of your choice!

Note: the trade paperback comes out October 6th! Pre-order it now!


Random House has offered to give away one copy to a lucky reader. This giveaway is open to the U.S. and Canada. There are two ways to enter. Please follow the instructions carefully because I want every entry to count!

1. At the end of Matthew’s post, he asks a few questions. Answer one (or more) of his questions for ONE entry. Make sure that I have a way to contact you.

2. For another entry, Tweet about this giveaway and be sure to include @TiBookChatter so I can track it. After you Tweet, post a separate comment here telling me you did so.

This giveaway will run until Friday, October 9, 2009. The winner will be selected randomly and announced on Monday, October 12, 2009. I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address so be sure to include a way for me to contact you.

Good luck!!!

Review & Book Tour: The Last Dickens

The Last Dickens
Matthew Pearl
Pub. Date: October 06, 2009
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Format: Paperback, 416pp
ISBN-13: 9780812978025
ISBN: 0812978021

The blurb from the publisher:

Boston, 1870. When news of Charles Dickens’s untimely death reaches the office of his struggling American publisher, Fields & Osgood, partner James Osgood sends his trusted clerk Daniel Sand to await Dickens’s unfinished novel–The Mystery of Edwin Drood. But when Daniel’s body is discovered by the docks and the manuscript is nowhere to be found, Osgood must embark on a transatlantic quest to unearth the novel that will save his venerable business and reveal Daniel’s killer.

The Short of It:

A literary adventure of the most enjoyable kind. The Last Dickens is a historical literary thriller that includes a good dose of mystery, lots of bookish references and a smattering of romance all rolled into one.

The Rest of It:

The Last Dickens is a fictionalization that focuses on the unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Although the novel started out a tad slow for me, it didn’t take long for me to get into the story or its characters. As I was reading, I found myself thinking about silent films from the early 1900’s. Why, you ask? Well, the villains in those films were these creepy, shadowy apparitions that appeared out of nowhere. There is much of that in this novel as well. Additionally, the lure of the opium dens and their smoky interiors add to the mysterious air of the novel. Films from that era had to rely on setting and the setting that Pearl paints, draws the reader in.

However, what I really enjoyed were the passages about Dickens himself. Pearl does an excellent job of making Dickens an accessible, compassionate human being. The eccentricities of the author shine through, yet he is a bit softer around the edges…more likable I guess. Earlier in the year I read Drood by Dan Simmons. In that novel, the sections that dealt with Dickens and his American tour seemed a tad tedious to get through. I didn’t find that to be the case with The Last Dickens. Pearl takes the time to focus on Dickens as a man, and not just his readings alone. I felt that this alone helped the reader understand how much this man was loved by his readers.

Another item of importance is that it is not necessary for you to have read any of Dickens’s work. Doing so certainly adds to the experience but The Last Dickens does not require it of the reader. Overall, this reading adventure was well worth the trip and I look forward to reading Pearl’s other works.

Matthew is coming by for another visit on Wednesday, September 30th for a guest post. Be sure to check it out because it will also include a chance to win the book!

If you’d like to read more about Matthew Pearl, click here to visit his website.

To purchase the book, visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or an independent bookseller of your choice. The paperback will be released on October 6th!

Check out the rest of Matthew’s tour stops here.

A big ‘thank you’ to TLC Book Tours for asking me to be a part of this tour.

Thanks to Random House for providing me with this review copy.