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Books / Entertainment / March 1, 2009

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Dan Simmons, a guy best known for his respected sci-fi stuff like the four-book “Hyperion Cantos”, has now produced a horror novel so big and heavy it could knock your head off, if flung. It’s called Drood, and it weighs in at 771 pages.

This is a good thing, of course, if you like reading and want to withdraw from the world for three or four days. And who doesn’t?

Simmons’ set-up is lurid and fantastic. We’re looking at the last crazy, roiling years of writer Charles Dickens’ life. That’s when the world-famous enshriner of hearth-and-home in a parade of bestselling books from Oliver Twist to Our Mutual Friend risked his reputation by booting out his long-suffering wife and publicly blaming her for their separation while he took up with a teenaged mistress discreetly housed in France.

Then Dickens, the mistress, and the mistress’ dear old mom were traveling in a train that got smashed to splinters in the Staplehurst railway calamity—train derailed going over a chasm, most of the cars fell in, kablooey, gruesome death all over the place. The Dickens car was miraculously spared and it all made the news in a big way, which wasn’t ideal for a world-famous author with a secret mistress. All that’s pretty much true, so far.

What Simmons makes up is Dickens’ encounter amid the railway carnage with a ghoulish figure named Drood, who subsequently obsesses Dickens. He tracks Drood through all the favorite, forbidden Victorian fleshpots, the reeking “dens of iniquity” where Mr. Hyde and Dorian Grey and Jack the Ripper generally hang out. What does Dickens want with Drood? That’s the mystery, and whaddaya know, The Mystery of Edwin Drood is the actual title of Dickens’ last, unfinished novel, which features lots of opium dens and suggestions of limitless depravity.

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Okay, you might say, so far, so formula. It’s that Seven Percent Solution kind of story, Sigmund Freud meets Sherlock Holmes, historical figures meet fictional characters, research data mixes with novelistic cleverness and lots of sheer name-dropping wankery. Good fun in its way—ecstasy for former English majors—but what’s the kicker this time around?

The kicker’s the narrator, Wilkie Collins who, in what we laughingly call “real life,” was a laudanum-addicted, free-love advocating, second-rate 19th-century novelist who counted Charles Dickens as his mentor and best friend. Simmons has him writing an expose of the Drood affair that Collins considers so shocking it’s to be kept sealed for a hundred and twenty-some years after his own death. In short, till now.

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11 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. Requiem  |  March 2nd, 2009 at 12:06 am

    Will I hate myself for reading this? I think I will.

    Will I read it anyway? Hell yes.

  • 2. Geoduck  |  March 2nd, 2009 at 4:07 am

    It’s not like this is Simmons’ first doorstopper-horror novel; check out _Carrion Comfort_ if you’re into that sort of thing.

  • 3. rick  |  March 2nd, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    I don’t know if you adequately deal with how loathsome the integration of marketing major stuff into literary content has become. Like with the historical literary characters. Oh! It’s Ahab’s Wife! It’s Jane Austen! It’s Kafka’s pet snake narrating! It’s some memory brand patterns lighting up in your brain!

    It’s even more vile, or maybe sad, when you think of how feeble the “former English major” market is. I guess the ladies can’t be blowing away zombies, they gotta do something. As a fiction writer I barely read (I sure as hell once did.) But all the smug cutesiness of literary-y fiction makes me want to puke. Still, the aesthete in me has degenerated to the point where “watchable” and “readable” are really all that’s left.

    I like these reviews though, they have that unique snobby populism, never skimping on either.

  • 4. Keno Download  |  March 2nd, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Thanks for the review.

  • 5. Grimgrin  |  March 2nd, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Simmons lost me with his Ilium/Olympos bits. He starts out writing a neat bit of classical mytholgy meets sci fi in the vein of Zelazny and by the second half it’s “EVIL MUSLIM LIZARDS KILLING SPACE JEWS!!!”

  • 6. Nestor  |  March 3rd, 2009 at 7:34 am

    Um, I’m coming to the close of the Baroque Cycle so this sounds like a convenient next stop.

  • 7. Scott  |  March 3rd, 2009 at 9:34 am

    They don’t get paid by the word. They get paid by the page.

  • 8. Robinsod  |  March 3rd, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Kafka owned a snake?

  • 9. Gordon  |  March 3rd, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    Rampant venereal diseases. At least they can be cured today if you have insurance.

    Can you cure herpes?

    Is any woman going to suck my sore dick?

  • 10. Bob  |  March 7th, 2009 at 6:49 am

    Perhaps people would enjoy reading this, also from Dan Simmons:

    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1610142/posts

    He will join Orson Scott Card on the not-getting-my-money list.

  • 11. Max Renn  |  March 7th, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Yup, I’m with Bob. And this is Simmons’ second novel to lift an entire historical episode and embellish it with massive flab. Simmons whinged at length that reviewers refused to take ‘The Terror’ seriously as an ‘historical novel’ but reviewed it as genre fiction. LeGuin is chuckling somewhere.

    Dan’s got some real issues with non-white folk.


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