Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Drood by Dan Simmons

Every now and then you just have to read a book that is creepy and sinister, not gory mind you, I don't care for gore, but just shiver-up-the-spine creepy. Drood is just such a book. Well, there is some gore, but mostly it's just dark and foreboding. It's also massive, weighing in at 770 pages.

Drood is a character in one of Charles Dickens' books, either that or the character in his book is based on Drood. We aren't really sure. The narrator is Wilkie Collins, a contemporary and sometimes friend of Dickens. He addresses us as Dear Reader and the entire thing is written to us, 125 years in the future. You may recognize Collins as the author of Moonstone and The Woman in White, which had a run on Broadway a few years back as an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

Drood is a malevolent villain, first introduced after a near-fatal train crash where Dickens and his mistress and her mother were in the only first class carriage not to derail. He meets Drood there and later follows him into "Undertown", the city under the city of London, taking Collins along with him.

Drood takes over Collins' and Dickens' lives. They live in fear and dread, wondering where he will turn up, yet managing to go on with their everyday lives as if this shadowy character did not exist. They regularly collaborate on plays and books but Collins has a near crippling jealousy of Dickens. He also has a raging drug habit, laudanum being his drug of choice but he often frequents opium dens as well.

Neither Dickens or Collins is particularly likable. Dickens is condescending and rude, he kicks the mother of his 10 children out of the house so he can pursue a relationship with a young actress, he is overbearing and arrogant. Collins, besides being a drug addict, lives with one woman while having children with another, refusing to marry either, and is whiny and resentful towards Dickens.

There are many surprises in this book. It is unique and interesting, and despite it's length, very readable. There could have been some editing done, but I happen to like the many wanderings into superfluous stories. They are interesting and serve to fully develop the characters involved. I found myself wondering many many times just how much was factually-based and how much was fiction. Obviously it is a heavily-researched novel.

The story is written in Victorian English and so there are very few swear words. Despite the mistresses involved, sex is not discussed or just in an oblique way. The book, however, is definitely adult what with drug use, adultery, murders, etc. I would rate it PG-13.

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