On the 9th of June, 1865, ten passengers were killed when a train crashed at Staplehurst. Among the passengers who survived the disaster was the novelist Charles Dickens. Meeting his friend, Wilkie Collins, soon afterwards Dickens describes a strange individual he came across at the site of the crash. This man, Drood, is to drag both Dickens and Collins into the depths of Victorian London’s criminal and poverty stricken underbelly. Will he also lead to murder and insanity?
The one word that springs to my mind after finishing this book is, quite simply, conflicted. On the one hand it is a fascinating read, on the other its unreliable narrator is so very unpleasant. On the one hand, Simmons has created a wonderful version of Victorian London, full of gaslights, smoke, stars, detectives, and writers. But then again Simmons has also taken real people and made quite a few into very unlikeable individuals. Not only are their actions questionable, but their own internal justifications, which Simmons can never know, are there for us to see. I have to say that I have a bit of an issue with that. Not that I know any different about these people. And I am aware that this is a fictional book. Sure, there are truths and facts to it, but the Dickens and Collins in this book are fictional characters. They are not the real people. But, by using them as his central figures Simmons has coloured my views on both of them. Is that the fault of the reader or the author?
Whichever, it is, I suppose a side issue when talking about a novel. The real discussion should probably centre on the book itself.
And I found this a fascinating, if long, read. And long it is. And detailed. At times it seems to meander through the events almost looking for a central plot to tie it all together. In the end, of course it does, but there were times when I did want Simmons to “just get on with it” a little bit more.
But I can’t really discuss the book without reference to the ending. Show Spoiler ▼
I have no doubt my enjoyment of this book was somewhat spoiled by the fact that I’m not overly familiar with either of the central characters’ novels. I have, in some distant past, read The Moonstone but remember little of it. I do intend to read more by Collins. And as for Dickens, well, I’m afraid that I’ve tried a few and the only one I ever succeeded in enjoying A Tale of Two Cities but of the rest of it, meh is my recollection. Meh, and overlong.
There are loads of wonderfully interesting details, and I am interested in researching more about both. Whether I will or not I don’t know. I am quite lazy and full of procrastination.