“D—m his eyes! The Other Wilkie was writing The Moonstone and there was nothing I could do about it. And he was the better writer.”
“Drood” by Dan Simmons
When I happened upon this big, heavy volume on the bargain table at Barnes & Noble, I found myself to be really excited. I needed more 700+ page books for the Tea & Books Reading Challenge, and the premise sounded incredibly captivating. Mid-nineteenth century London, with a narrator who takes us through the ‘dark final days’ of Charles Dickens, all centered around a mysterious and frightening figure. Plus, I loved Hyperion, so I snatched it up, eager to incorporate it into my TBR pile.
Little did I know, Drood is actually dreadful.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love the concept and I really admire what Simmons was doing with this book. Not only was he taking a very fascinating literary figure and using it to reflect all sorts of things that make a writer great, make him insecure, make him spectacular, or make him terrible, but he was doing it through the eyes of another author, Wilkie Collins, friend of Dickens and a man with a terribly fascinating biography. I liked what Simmons was trying to do, but I feel that he ultimately failed, at least to do what he intended in a way that would satisfy me (and I, clearly, am the end-all, be-all of great literature…).
Ultimately, I think Drood suffered greatly from its immense length. I like a tale with an unreliable narrator that I dislike on a personal and ethical level, but nearly 800 pages of one is a little too much. A great deal of the book feels repetitive and rehashed, as the same situations are happening over and over again, with some of the details tweaked and more information on our end of things. I like that I can sympathize with some of Wilkie’s distresses as a fellow writer, but there’s just too much of it. I appreciate the envy and the constant “frenimy” relationship he has with Dickens, but it gets a little stale. I like the melodramatics and the overdramatics of the mesmerism and the early Victorian sensibilities, but it gets so overdone! I feel we would not be missing too much if the book was condensed and tightened. As a matter of fact, I think it would be highly more effective that way.
I will give Simmons this, though. He can write a spectacularly creepy passage. His description of Drood and Wilkie’s various ghosts are stunning and chilling, but the power of such descriptions fade too quickly when these phantoms are put aside for several chapters of Wilkie’s personal life and petty feuds with Dickens. I sometimes feel bad when I say that a book would have been better if it were shorter, but I know I’m not afraid of long books. I’ve devoured half of A Song of Ice and Fire book in the same time it took me to trudge through the last 100 pages of this one. Some books just really do work better as a shorter piece, and I think Drood is a tale that would have left a more positive mark if it had been whittled down by half.
Books read: 16/100.