It may seem odd that a blog that was created in order to participate in a serial flash fiction contest would be recommend that you spend part of your summer reading a novel which is 784 pages.
When that novel is Drood by Dan Simmons, I cannot resist.
Charles Dickens, like Shakespeare will never go away as long as there are still people who read. Even if you don’t read, Dickens is everywhere. He is a staple of English television, appearing even on an episode of Dr. Who. He crosses the pond as well as a frequent choice of Masterpiece Theatre. This Christmas, Jim Carrey will star in yet another big screen adaption of his most famous work, A Christmas Carol. He is also part of the inspiration for the serial fiction contest that I will be participating in since he is one of the authors that made serial fiction so popular in his lifetime.
Everyone thinks they know Charles Dickens. Dan Simmons will make you question what you think you know about this literary icon. Simmons novel begins with the famous accident at Staplehurst which shaped the last five years of the author’s life. Simmons does a masterful job of weaving historical facts and drug addled fantasy until this reader was unsure of what is truly going on within this novel.
I believe in years to come when this novel is analyzed in English Lit classes, it will be generally agreed that Simmons masterstroke was his choice of Wilkie Collins as the novel’s narrator. A contemporary of Dickens, friend and employee he seems at first a reliable narrator, but it is a fact that Collins was also a drug addict whose addiction grew progressively over his lifetime. As he grows more dependant on laudaum, the reader grows less confident of his point of view.
This novel is about so many things, it is hard to pin down. It is about the relationship between Dickens and Collins, the relationship between an author and his audience, the desire to explain one of the greatest literary questions of all time. Those are the things on the surface. Underneath it is about personal and professional jealousies. Ultimately I think it is about the fear that almost every creative person has deep down somewhere that at some point it may become impossible to distinguish between the real world and the world that he creates on paper.
This novel is worth the time it will take you to read it. It will also make you seek out a decent biography of Charles Dickens. I know I did.
What I’m reading now: The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
What I’m reading next: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters