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Charles Dickens may be a classic writer of fine literature today, but way back when, he was a major celebrity. Readers waited on edge for the newest installments of his novels to come out in weekly newspapers and magazines; his book readings were carefully crafted performances and boy, were they packed. And according to author Dan Simmons, Dickens was a strange and secretive man. In Drood, Dickens is the main character, though his real-life friend (“frenemy” is perhaps more accurate) Wilkie Collins narrates the story. The starting point is a horrifying and near-fatal train derailing in 1865 that Dickens survived but never entirely recovered from. Simmons uses this factual event to introduce a mysterious character who Dickens encounters amid the gore and wreckage of the train—a gaunt specter, calling himself Drood, who emits a decidedly creepy aura and has a sinister agenda of his own. Dickens becomes obsessed with tracking Drood and enlists Collins to assist him in nighttime voyages though London’s grotesque underground caverns and crypts. Collins, as portrayed in Drood, is bitterly jealous and opium-addicted; Dickens is an egomaniac of the highest order who’s keeping heavy secrets from friends and family, including the motive behind what will be his final, uncompleted book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Things get weirder, spookier, and more bizarre as the final years of Dickens’ life draw to a close for a wholly atmospheric blend of history, historical fiction, and supernatural horror that’s as dramatic (and melodramatic) as the novels by Dickens and Collins that inspired it. Be sure to check out Dickens’ novels (especially The Mystery of Edwin Drood), and don’t let Wilkie Collins, who remains largely in the shadow of his better-known contemporary, be forgotten again—his novels The Moonstone and The Woman in White are masterpieces in their own right.
posted Apr 3, 2010 at 12:00PM
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