three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
40-May-June-2009
By: 
Dan Simmons
user_rating: 
0

A-DroodWhile best known for his science fiction novels (including Hyperion, which won the Huge Award), Dan Simmons has lately turned his hand to historical fiction. His most recent novel was The Terror ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection Mar/Apr 2007).

The Story: Charles Dickens aficionados will recognize the title of this novel from the author’s half-finished last book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. But the Drood of this tale, a corpselike master of mesmerism who haunts Dickens after a train wreck that left the writer unsettled for the last years of his life, differs. Sound strange? That’s not only because Simmons has used this incident as the point of departure for this historical fantasy but also because of its unreliable narrator, Wilkie Collins. Collins reliably turned out stories of suspense like The Woman in White, but we can’t quite trust what he says here because of his dependence on opium and his resentment of Dickens’s genius. Simmons weaves the facts of these two authors’ lives together with real and imagined threads of underground London to build a bizarre tapestry of Victorian literature and licentiousness.
Little, Brown. 784 pages. $26.99. ISBN: 0316007021

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Writing a good suspense novel can be like trying to steer a runaway train. That Simmons manages to make this particular train jump off and on the tracks at will, resulting in a wild, rollercoaster-like ride with a satisfying flourish at the novel’s end, is testament to his continuing powers as a writer. Drood is a powerful locomotive of a novel that should be riding high on best-seller lists this year." Dorman T. Shindler

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Just shy of 800 pages, Drood can be as labyrinthine as the bowels of Victorian London. … In these days, when less isn’t more but all you get, Simmons’ ambitious, overstuffed Drood delivers a romp beyond your wildest drug-induced dreams." Ellen Kanner

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Simmons has done his homework and the many details of Dickens’s life that enrich this novel are a pleasure. But do you really want a novel about Dickens to compete with Bleak House in length?" Marjorie Kehe

New Yorker 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In this creepy intertextual tale of professional jealousy and possible madness, Wilkie Collins tells of his friendship and rivalry with Charles Dickens, and of the mysterious phantasm named Edwin Drood, who pursues them both. … The narrative is overlong, with discarded subplots and red herrings, but Simmons, a master of otherworldly suspense, cleverly explores envy’s corrosive effects."

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"For maximum impact, a familiarity with Dickens’ last, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, is recommended, but that’s not a rigid prerequisite for enjoying this novel. Falling completely under the spell of Simmons’ latest thriller takes some patience and work, but the rewards are worth the effort." Michael Berry

St. Petersburg Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In Drood, Dan Simmons has created a classic ghost story modeled along Victorian lines, one featuring a first-rate villain in Drood, the Lord of London’s Undertown, a literal city beneath the city. Simmons withholds little in imagining the mesmeric hold his Drood, Dickens and Collins hold over one another, and in the process he creates a world entire, fully realized and fun. Drood is erudite and engaging entertainment." James Reese

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Inside this artery-clogging almost-800-page book is a sleek and sinewy 300-page thriller waiting to be teased out. If only Simmons hadn’t left the job to us." Louis Bayard

Dallas Morning News 2 of 5 Stars
"It’s possible to defend the baggage of this novel by saying that Simmons is simply emulating the bulky novels that Dickens and Collins themselves produced. However, the length of such Victorian novels was the result of serial publication, which provided readers with more regular doses of suspense than Drood does. There is a better, nimbler novel trying to get out here." Robert Cremins

Critical Summary

The narrative of Drood may be full of subplots and blind alleys, but the mystery of whether it is a good novel or not turns on a single question: is it too long? The most enthusiastic reviewers did not seem to notice the book’s nearly 800-page girth. Most critics, while positive, were also apologetic, claiming that Simmons needed such space to air his considerable research, or that the novel could only succeed if it also assumed the proportions of 19th-century books whose authors were paid by the word. A few less-patient reviewers opined that Simmons simply needed to pull out the red pen. But despite their differences, all the critics agreed that, in its best parts, Drood is fantastically imaginative, eerily erudite, mischievous, and macabre.

Also by the Author

The Terror (2007): In the mid-1840s, two British ships set out for the Canadian Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage; the 129 crewmen aboard the ships were never seen again. Dan Simmons reimagines the horror experienced by those on board.